April 28th is Workers’ Memorial Day, when we honor and remember those who have lost their lives at and because of their work. This year’s theme “Strong Laws, Safe Work” highlights the importance of fighting for workers’ right to health and safety, especially now, as workplace protections are increasingly threatened in the US and worldwide.
Many people around the world risk their lives daily by going to work. In factories, slaughterhouses and mines, on farms, oil rigs and construction sites, working conditions can be extremely hazardous, even deadly. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), more than 2.3 million workers are killed on the job each year (this number is a low estimate, as many countries do not accurately track workplace accidents and deaths).
According to the AFL-CIO, in the US, “4,836 workers were killed on the job in 2015 and an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 workers died from occupational diseases, which means that 150 workers died each day from hazardous working conditions.” Injury and death rates among Latina/o and Black workers are the highest they have been since 2008.
Workers and activists have organized to improve working conditions and workplace safety in all types of environments. In many countries, they have achieved much — shorter working hours, better pay, the provision of protective equipment, and restrictions on many of the most dangerous chemicals. But even these common-sense protections are now under attack, and the rollback in safety is sure to increase the daily death toll on the job.
Hesperian’s Workers’ Guide to Health and Safety is a resource workers can use to learn about basic health and safety, to become leaders of their own health, and to move from the individual to the collective fight for safer workplaces. The book includes activities and real-life stories of struggle and success that will support organizing and health efforts.
Tomorrow, let’s all join the day of remembrance for the people who’ve lost their lives at and from work. But the day after that, let’s join the fight to ensure nobody loses their lives because they went to work. As Mary “Mother” Jones said: Mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living!