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Ferguson: Workers Memorial Day and a Voice for the Workers

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April 28 is Workers Memorial Day, a time when workers and their families, labor unions and safety advocates commemorate those who were killed on the job: 4,800 fatalities per year, or an average of 13 workers who lose their lives every day.

Julie Ferguson

Julie Ferguson

The AFL-CIO dedicated the first Workers Memorial Day in 1970 as a day of remembrance for those who have been killed or suffered injuries/illnesses on the job. It also sheds light on the preventable nature of most workplace incidents with its theme of "Remember the dead, fight for the living."

When it comes to work fatalities, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Jordan Barab of the newly resurfaced Confined Space blog profiles some of these deaths in his Weekly Toll. It’s tough but important reading. Those of us who work in insurance can be focused on dollar and cents, and lose touch with the real reason many of us entered the workers’ comp arena. And even the most dedicated number-crunchers among us see the wisdom that the least expensive claims are the ones that never happen.

Jordan’s blog focuses mainly on policy and political issues around worker safety, but he explains why he decided to pick up the grim task of compiling this list:

But ultimately, we’re only fighting the policy and political issues because working people are getting hurt and killed every day in the workplace, and more has to be done to stop the carnage. Today I resume a necessary — if depressing — task that I conducted every couple of weeks in the last version of Confined Space: The Weekly Toll — a list of every worker I could find that was killed in the workplace over the previous week or two. The main reason I started the original version of Confined Space in 2003 was that I realized that while a few workers killed in workplace incidents sometimes receive enormous media attention, most workers die alone and unnoticed by anyone except their immediate families and friends. Something had to be done to ensure that these thousands aren’t dying in vain.

Jordan has been a tireless voice for worker safety throughout his career. He was deputy assistant secretary of labor at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from 2009 to 2017. Prior to that, he worked for the House Education and Labor Committee, the Chemical Safety Board, the AFL-CIO, OSHA and AFSCME.

His Confined Space blog was one of the early blogs that inspired us as we launched Workers' Comp Insider. He put his blog on ice while working for OSHA, but he has recently relaunched it and is an important voice in looking to the health and safety of workers, particularly in an administration that has pledged to cut regulations and funding for many programs.

We have talked about and are concerned about the defunding and elimination of the Chemical Safety Board. The administration has also rolled back some important, albeit controversial, OSHA regulations and it is expected that OSHA will suffer further curtailment. Scott Schneider looks at some of the programs that are at risk and why they are important in OSHA Regulations: The Next Target.

The president asked businesses and industries for advice on which regulations should be, cut and he received 168 submissions from corporations and industry special interest groups.  Unfortunately, eliminating many of these are likely to have a corrosive effect on worker health and safety.

Meanwhile, for the voice and interests of the worker and worker safety, Confined Space is an important read.

Julie Ferguson is a marketing consultant for Lynch Ryan & Associates, a Massachusetts-based employer consulting firm. This column was reprinted with permission from the firm's Workers' Comp Insider blog.

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