For International Workers Memorial Day, the 100-year-old American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), representing more than 33,000 occupational safety, health, and environmental professional members, extends their sympathies to the families, friends, and co-workers of those who lost their lives this past year due to on-the-job injuries and urges companies and workers to develop and implement effective workplace safety programs now.
In 2009, 4,340 workers died from on-the-job injuries and another 55,000 died of occupational diseases. Also more than 4.1 million workplace injuries and illnesses were reported in local workplaces in the U.S. alone.
Next week, ASSE celebrates North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week which runs May 1-7 and Occupational Safety and Health Professional Day on May 4. NAOSH Week is just one of the educational tools ASSE uses to reach the public and businesses about the importance of value of workplace safety programs and systems. Through NAOSH activities, ASSE, its members, and partners reach more than 80,000 businesses and millions of people each year with key information on how to be safe at work and provide key occupational safety resources.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), worldwide each year, more than two million people die as a result of work-related accidents and diseases. The ILO states that workers suffer approximately 270 million occupational incidents causing injury each year, and some 160 million people suffer from work related illnesses; hazardous substances kill 440,000 workers annually—asbestos claims 100,000 lives—and, the ILO notes, one worker dies every 15 seconds worldwide.
Workers’ Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember and honor those workers killed, disabled, or injured, was started by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in 1984. In 1985, the Canadian Labour Congress declared April 28th as an annual day of remembrance to commemorate the anniversary of the Canadian comprehensive Workers Compensation Act of 1914. Today, Workers’ Memorial Day is recognized as a national day in many countries including: Argentina, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Luxembourg, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Taiwan, the U.S., and the United Kingdom.
Occupational safety, health, and environmental professionals, continue to work to make sure everyone who goes to work leaves work injury and illness free to return home to their families every night. ASSE members assess hazards and risk with employers and workers to assure everyone has the right to make a living without impacting their safety and health.
“Safety and health practitioners around the world have made great strides in efforts to protect workers, but we have more to do. We ask businesses, employers and employees around the world to adopt safety as part of their core company value,” ASSE President Darryl C. Hill, Ph.D, CSP, said. “Not only adopt it as a core value, but to develop and implement occupational safety programs and systems that work—to protect workers, their families, communities and their bottom line as well as their business reputation.
“No one can put a price on a person’s life, and today, too many families are grieving for the loved ones they lost last year. They will not be forgotten,” Hill said. “As safety and health professionals, we know well the pain that can cause. We also know the major positive benefits to a company, its employees, and its reputation that effective occupational safety, health, and environmental programs provide.”
ASSE knows this well. On Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City took the lives of 146 women and men unable to escape due to inadequate safety protections. Doors were locked, the fire escape had melted. Many desperate to escape the fire jumped through the windows to the pavement below, where they died or down the elevator shaft while thousands of New Yorkers watched unable to help in horror. The fire department ladders were unable to reach the top floors where the workers were. Public outrage and grief at this horrific tragedy led to new work and safety legislation, rules and regulations countrywide. Months later in New York City ASSE, now based in Des Plaines, IL, was formed as a result of the fire and the modern work safety movement began. Today, workplaces are safer, but more needs to be done.
“[NAOSH Week] is incredibly important, as we continue to reach out to all areas of the world on the importance of being safe at work and passing along resources that are available to all,” Hill said. “We’ve been doing this for 100 years and will continue for the next 100 and more.”