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Workers’ Memorial Week 2015: Thousands Speak out For Worker Safety at 100+ Events Nationwide

Workers’ Memorial Week 2015, which concluded on May 2, featured over 100 events nationwide– rallies, vigils, dinners, safety expos- as thousands of people remembered their loved ones and spoke out for worker safety.

A memorial in Philadelphia was exceptionally emotional for National COSH Board President Barbara Rahke, as reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Friday’s ceremony seemed more poignant because of a cruel coincidence – a spate of recent deaths, with four workers dying in less than two weeks…

Carpenter Benjamin Hattendorf, 42, died April 17 after falling off a construction site in West Philadelphia.

“He fell 100 feet,” said Barbara Rahke, who heads the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health, which organized Friday’s event…

Hattendorf’s death particularly affected Rahke. From her office, she can see the construction site where Hattendorf died. That morning, he ate breakfast in her building’s cafeteria. “It’s really unbelievable,” she said.

Other Local COSH groups played an active role, organizing and participating in events across the country.

Jorge Cabrera of SoCalCOSH addresses a Workers’ Memorial Day crowd in Los Angeles.

  • National COSH Executive Director Mary Vogel and Western Mass COSH Executive Director Mike Florio joined a ceremony In Springfield, Massachusetts, memorializing 62 people who had died in the state.
  • In Cheyenne, Wyoming, Governor Matt Mead attended the fourth annual Workers’ Memorial Day ceremony co-sponsored by WyCOSH. “I think this memorial has been one of the vehicles that has really helped keep worker safety at the forefront of the conversation,” WyCOSH’s Brianna Jones told the Casper Star Tribune. “It has obviously had a good effect if the governor is willing to attend.”
  • Governor Maggie Hassan spoke at a memorial dinner in Hooksett, New Hampshire, sponsored by New Hampshire COSH and the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, as captured in this video.
  • Reverend Fletcher Harper, executive board chair of the New Jersey Work Environment Council (NJWEC), addressed a rally of 400 workers in New Brunswick, saying “Safe working conditions — with protection from toxic and other hazards — are a moral duty and are the law.” (See here for NJWEC’s video and photos of the event.)
  • Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of MassCOSH, addressed a crowd of over 100 on the Statehouse steps in Boston, calling for larger employer penalties in cases of worker fatalities.
  • SoCalCOSH led a coalition of organizations in holding a press conference at Los Angeles City Hall, calling for action to address the occupational hazards that disproportionately afflict immigrant and Latino communities.
  • The Central New York Occupational Health Clinical Centers held three events: in Canton, a production of the play “These Shining Lives,” about workers’ exposure to radium in the 1930s; in Syracuse, the annual Unity breakfast with COSH and labor groups; and in Binghamton, an outdoor ceremony with a record 60 people in attendance.
  • NYCOSH, WisCOSH, Houston Area COSH (a project of the Fe Y Justicia Worker Center), and the Knox Area Workers’ Memorial Day Committee also organized events.

National COSH and local COSH groups also issued annual Workers Memorial Day reports on worker fatalities and how to prevent them. They are all available below as downloadable pdfs.

National COSH released Not an Accident: Preventable Deaths 2015, with data, infographics, case studies, and policy recommendations to address the toll of over 54,000 annual work-related fatalities in the United States.

MassCOSH released Dying for Work in Massachusetts: Loss of Life & Limb in Massachusetts workplaces, a report on the 49 workers who lost their lives in Massachusetts in 2014, with individual stories, analysis of hazards, and prescriptions for what is needed at the Federal level, at the state and local level, and in workplaces.

South Florida COSH debuted their first Workers’ Memorial Day report, Workplace deaths in Florida with a focus on Southeast Florida, an analysis of the 239 deaths in Florida in 2013. It features workers’ stories and recommendations for employers, employees, elected officials, and community members.

The Knox Area Workers’ Memorial Day Committee released Tennessee Workers: Dying for a Job, a report on worker fatalities in Tennessee in 2013 and 2014. The report includes information on 172 known Tennessee worker fatalities, eleven in-depth stories about individual workers, positive developments in worker safety, and recommendations for future action.

A coalition including Fe Y Justicia Worker Center released Worker Memorial Day Report 2015: Workplace Fatalities in the Houston Area, with details on the deaths of over 60 of the approximately 500 Texas workers who died on the job last year, and articles on causes and actions needed to address workplace safety.

And finally, Worksafe‘s fifth annual Workers’ Memorial Day report, Dying at Work in California, analyzes the increasing numbers of work-related deaths in California (396 in 2013), the high rate of deaths among Latino workers, risk factors, costs, and what remains to be done.