Unions to remember fallen workers

Forty-seven workers died on the job in Oregon in 2012. That’s down from 57 a year ago, and equals the number who died in 2010, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report.

To honor them, the Oregon AFL-CIO and Northwest Oregon Labor Council will hold memorial services the last week of April. Both services are part of the national AFL-CIO’s Workers Memorial Day event, which recognizes the thousands of U.S. workers who die each year  and the more than 1 million who are injured  at work. This year marks the 42nd anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the effective date of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The Act—which guarantees every American worker a safe and healthful working environment—created OSHA.

The Oregon AFL-CIO’s observance will be at noon, Monday, April 29, at the Fallen Workers Memorial outside the Labor and Industries Building, 350 Winter St. NE, on the Capitol Mall in Salem. The service will feature the reading of the names of the Oregon workers who died on the job in 2012, along with the names of Oregonians killed in military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. (A list appears on Page 8 of this issue.)

On Monday, April 22, the Northwest Oregon Labor Council will hold a memorial service at its monthly delegates meeting. The service will include a presentation of colors by the Oregon Military Funeral Honors Program. Michael Wood, administrator of the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OR-OSHA), will be the keynote speaker.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at  the IBEW Local 48 Hall, 15937 NE Airport Way, Portland.

According to the most recent BLS data available, 51 of the 57 workers killed in Oregon in 2011 were men; 17 (men and women) were between the ages of 55 to 64, and nine were 65 or older. Trucking/transportation and farming/fishing/ forestry occupations were the deadliest, accounting for 24 of the fatalities. Transportation incidents (20) and contact with objects and equipment (12) were the top killers.

“Each year, we hope to see the list of fallen workers diminish until we do not have a list to read from at all,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain. “Until that day, we will continue to fight for safe working conditions. As we add jobs to Oregon’s economy and get more people back to work, it is crucial that Oregon employers continue to prioritize safety at the workplace — anything else would be unacceptable and undermine the years of hard work we all have put in to strengthening our workplace protections.”

Nationally, 4,609 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2011, down from  4,690 deaths in 2010. Transportation incidents accounted for more than two out of every five fatalities in 2011.

Of the 1,898 transportation-related incidents, about 57 percent (1,075 cases) were roadway incidents involving motorized vehicles. Non-roadway incidents, such as a tractor overturn in a farm field, accounted for another 11 percent. About 16 percent involved pedestrians who were struck by vehicles. Of the 312 fatal work injuries involving pedestrians struck by vehicles, 61 occurred in work zones.

Fatal falls, slips, or trips took the lives of 666 workers in 2011, or about 14 percent of all fatal work injuries. Falls to a lower level accounted for 541 of those fatalities. The height of the fall was reported in 451 of the 541 incidences. Of those cases, about one in four (115) occurred after a fall of 10 feet or less. Another fourth (118) occurred from a fall of over 30 feet.

A total of 472 workers were fatally injured after being struck by objects or equipment, including 219 workers who were struck by falling objects or equipment and 192 who were struck by powered vehicles or mobile equipment not in normal operation.

There were 152 multiple-fatality incidents in 2011 (incidents in which more than one worker was killed) in  which 354 workers died.

“So many of these deaths are readily preventable, the result of problems that can easily be addressed by employer compliance with our rules and with safe work practices,” said OR-OSHA’s Wood. “That can make Workers Memorial Day a frustrating experience for those of us who attend each year. But that is also why it is an important event. Because we can, indeed, do better. And we must never forget that.”

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