In 1989, April 28 was designated Workers Memorial Day to direct attention to workers who have been killed or injured on the job. This day was chosen because it is the anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). Today, OSHA, employers, labor unions, community groups and others around the world now mark April 28 as an International Day of Mourning.
The goal of Workers Memorial Day is to remember those who have suffered and died on the job. As we reflect on those who have died in workplace catastrophes, suffered diseases due to exposure to toxic substances or been injured because of dangerous conditions, it is also an opportunity to renew our commitment to improving health and safety in the workplace. For this reason, the day has special significance to those who are dedicated to addressing occupational health and safety issues. Despite the difficulties and challenges we face in realizing the goal of reducing and eliminating workplace hazards, we must remain ever vigilant.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, there were a total of 5,190 fatal work injuries recorded in the United States in 2016, a 7 percent increase from the 4,836 fatal injuries reported in 2015. This is the third consecutive increase in annual workplace fatalities and the first time more than 5,000 fatalities have been recorded since 2008. The fatal injury rate increased to 3.6 per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers from 3.4 in 2016, the highest rate since 2010.
Fatal work injuries from falls, slips, or trips continued a general upward trend that began in 2011, increasing 6 percent to 849 in 2016 and 25 percent overall since 2011. Falls increased more than 25 percent in 2016 for roofers, carpenters, tree trimmers and pruners, and heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers.
Workplace homicides increased by 83 cases to 500 in 2016. This is the highest homicide figure since 2010. Also, in 2016, fatal injuries among transportation and material moving occupations increased by 7 percent to 1,388, the highest count since 2007 and accounting for more than one-quarter of all work-related fatalities.
Asian, non-Hispanic workers incurred 160 fatal injuries, up from 114 in 2015, which was the highest percentage increase (40 percent) among any race or ethnic origin. Black or African-American, non-Hispanic workers also had a large percentage increase (19 percent), with 587 fatal injuries compared to 495 in 2015. The rate of fatal injury for both groups also increased. Hispanics or Latino workers had 3 percent fewer workplace fatalities in 2016 with 879 fatalities, down from 903.
Foreign-born workers make up about one-fifth of the total fatal work injuries. Thirty-seven percent of these workers were born in Mexico, followed by 19 percent from Asian countries. Finally, workers age 55 years and over had 1,848 fatal injuries, the highest number for this cohort since the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) began reporting in 1992. In 1992, workers age 55 years and over accounted for 20 percent of fatalities; in 2016, they accounted for 36 percent.
These are just some of the reasons that employers, workers, unions, community leaders, city council, state legislative representatives, OSHA, and others commemorate and publicize this important day.
OSHA’s past efforts have demonstrated that the protection of worker’s safety and health is directly linked to the existence and effectiveness of a safety and health program in a workplace. OSHA’s Safe & Sound Campaign [https://www.osha.gov/safeandsoundweek/index.html] encourages every workplace in the U.S. to adopt such a program designed to take a proactive approach to finding and fixing hazards.
Join OSHA this year in reflecting on the successes we have had in addressing workplace hazards and work with us on the challenges that we face ahead.