Every worker has a right to a safe job. Yet on an average day of the week, 13 U.S. workers die on the job due to unsafe working conditions. An additional 137 lives are lost daily due to occupational diseases – mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, among others.
On Friday – Workers' Memorial Day – we will stand with the families, friends, and colleagues of fallen workers to remember each of them as individuals whose lives represent much more than a statistic. We will also renew our vow to fight for workers' rights so that every single person who leaves home for a job in the morning returns at the end of the day with all their limbs accounted for and with their health intact.
Workers, advocates, and forward-thinking companies have already developed many worthy ideas to improve working conditions across the nation. Some basic changes we could make that would save lives and prevent injuries include:
- Enhancing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) authority to protect workers from hazardous conditions, especially exposure to toxic chemicals;
- Boosting the maximum civil and criminal penalties that OSHA can impose against violators to a level that deters bad actors from breaking the rules in the first place;
- Providing workers who report health and safety hazards or refuse to perform dangerous work with better protections against retaliation;
- Denying government contracts to companies with lengthy rap
Today, a lot of numbers will be thrown around – the staggering number of workers who died gruesome deaths on the job last year, the paltry fines that employers responsible for those deaths paid, the months and years we've waited for Congress to revisit the Occupational Safety and Health Act to make it more relevant to our modern workforce. There's good reason to reflect on those numbers. They tell us something important about our society and our relationship to work.