Safety and Health on the Job Is Everyone’s Right

As we observe Workers Memorial Day on April 28 to remember those who have suffered and died on the job, AFGE and the entire labor movement renew our commitment to defend the right of every worker to have a safe job. We also demand that elected officials put workers’ well-being above corporate interests.  

This fight is urgent. Why? Because every day, 150 working men and women die of their work, never to return home to their families and loved ones. 

In 2016 alone, nearly 5,200 workers were killed on the job—the highest number of workplace deaths in years. But that is only a part of the deadly toll. Each year, more than 50,000 workers die from occupational diseases caused by exposures to toxic chemicals and other health hazards. 

Workplace deaths and injuries that are as common as they are horrific should be the long-gone legacy of a 19th century textile mill. But they remain a terrifying reality today. 

Even though we’ve made progress on workplace safety the past several years, with the new Congress and administration, our hard-won gains are now being taken away. 

The progress we’ve made 

Since the job safety laws were passed more than four decades ago, we’ve made great progress in making workplaces safer and protecting workers. Fewer workers are being killed and injured on the job. We won new rules to protect workers from deadly silica dust, a stronger coal dust standard for miners, and stronger measures to protect workers who report job injuries from retaliation.  

This progress didn’t just happen because laws were passed. It happened because workers and their unions organized, fought and demanded action from employers and their government. 

It is working people, through their unions, who demanded and won stronger standards to protect workers from asbestos, benzene and other hazards. 

But all these hard-won gains are now threatened 

The Trump administration has launched an all-out assault on safety protections for workers. Here’s what they’ve done so far:  

  • President Trump and the Republicans in Congress repealed a rule that required employers to keep accurate injury records, and another rule that holds government contractors accountable for obeying safety laws and labor laws. 
  • The administration is moving to weaken worker safety protections on beryllium, coal dust and mine examinations.  
  • President Trump issued an executive order that requires two existing safeguards be removed for every new protection issued.  
  • President Trump is threatening funding for job safety agencies and programs, proposing a 21% cut to the Department of Labor’s budget and proposing to eliminate OSHA’s worker safety and health training program and the Chemical Safety Board.  
  • The president also proposed to cut NIOSH’s job safety research budget by $100 million—a 30% cut in current funding.  
  • OSHA’s current budget (FY 2018) of $553 million amounts to $3.61 per worker. There is one OSHA inspector for every 77,908 workers.  
  • The administration and members of Congress are weakening unions left and right. Without workers being able to come together to voice their safety concerns, their well-being is at risk. 

What you can do to raise awareness of workplace safety on Workers Memorial Day 

  • Organize a rally to call for stronger safety and health protections. Demand that elected officials put workers’ well-being over corporate interests. 
  • Hold a candlelight vigil, memorial service or moment of silence to remember those who have died on the job and highlight job safety problems at workplaces in your community. 
  • Hold a public meeting with members of Congress in their districts. Bring injured workers and family members who can talk firsthand about the need for strong safety and health protections, and the freedom to join a union. Invite local religious leaders and other allies to participate in the meeting. 
  • Conduct workshops to empower workers to report job safety hazards and exercise workplace rights. Invite union members, nonunion workers and community allies to participate. 
  • Create a memorial at a workplace or in a community where workers have been killed on the job. 
  • Invite the press to your Workers Memorial Day events to increase public awareness of the dangers workers face on the job. 

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