Every year on April 28, the U.S. Department of Labor and it’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration commemorates Workers Memorial Day, when we remember and honor the men and women who have lost their lives on the job. Many of these devastating losses were preventable if standards had been followed, appropriate controls existed, and if safety and health programs were a priority.
In 2021, the department also observes OSHA’s 50th anniversary. Before the 1971 enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the OSHA’s creation, many workers lacked basic protections from workplace hazards. Since then, OSHA and its many partners have helped transform U.S. workplaces and have reduced injuries, illnesses, and fatalities significantly.
“Workers Memorial Day reminds us of the sacrifices many workers make to earn their wages and provide for themselves and their families,” said Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. “No one should ever have to lose their life, suffer a disabling injury or develop a life-altering illness because they went to work. The dedicated professionals at the U.S. Department of Labor are determined to ensure that U.S. workers finish their workdays safely and hold that accountable whose neglect increases the likelihood of harm to our fellow citizens.”
Despite OSHA’s half-century of progress, more than 5,000 people suffer fatal injuries at work each year, and thousands more are hurt or sickened. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted – perhaps more than in any time in its history – the vital importance of OSHA’s mission. To date, the pandemic has killed more than 570,000 people, many of them essential frontline workers, many people of color, and immigrants among them, whose work served a nation in desperate need.
In response to the devastation, President Biden issued an executive order that directed the Department of Labor to consider whether any emergency temporary standards were necessary to keep workers safe from the hazard created by COVID-19. On Monday, April 26, OSHA sent draft standards to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review after working with its science-agency partners, economic agencies, and others in the U.S. government to get the proposed emergency standard right.
“In its 50-year history, OSHA has been at the forefront of many positive changes in workplace safety, but the pandemic made it clear – there remains much room for improvement and much more work to do,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick. “We intend to honor those workers who risked and lost their lives in the pandemic – and those they leave behind – by making America’s workplaces the safest and healthiest they can be.”
With $100 million in additional funding in the American Rescue Plan of 2021, OSHA is working to protect workers now and in the future. This includes ensuring that OSHA has the resources, such as much-needed staff, to do the agency’s work. The agency is planning to hire more than 160 new critical personnel, including compliance safety and health officers to respond to the pandemic. OSHA will also make available an additional $10 million in funds for Susan Harwood Training grants to support organizations delivering vital training to prevent vulnerable workers from exposure to the coronavirus and infectious disease.
The department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration is also ramping up efforts to protect workers at the nation’s thousands of mines by hiring dozens of inspectors and specialists to serving critical geographic areas. Increasing staff will enable the agency to direct more needed enforcement efforts to targeted safety and health hazards, as well as to provide more compliance assistance to special emphasis programs, including coronavirus.
“Today we’re honoring the 29 miners who lost their lives on the job in 2020, and recognizing the devastating impact of their absence on their families and communities,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Jeannette Galanis. “More importantly, we’re recommitting to creating safe and healthful workplaces where miners and their families can trust that a day’s work will end with them heading home, safe and healthy.”
OSHA also launched a new Workers Memorial Page that aims to lift up the voices of workers who lost their lives on the job. A virtual Workers Memorial Wall features names and images of workers as a solemn tribute for workers’ families, friends, and coworkers.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, education, and assistance.