By Matt Jaworski
Labor Citizen Writer
CLEVELAND – Two hours before the gates opened at Progressive Field in Cleveland for a Friday night Indians game against the Seattle Mariners, nearly 100 men and women gathered outside the ballpark to remember individuals who lost their lives or were seriously injured at work.
The pre-game action in Cleveland was just one of nearly a dozen events across Ohio held on April 28 to recognize Workers’ Memorial Day. Similar events were held across the country to commemorate the 46th anniversary of the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers became responsible for providing safe and healthful working conditions for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.
While OSHA has helped reduce workplace fatalities, injuries and illness since its inception, some of today’s workers routinely deal with unsafe workplace conditions.
According to the OSHA website, more than 4,500 workers die on the job each year.
An October 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics report indicated there were approximately 2.9 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2015, which occurred at a rate of 3 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers.
Despite these figures, BLS data shows the 2015 injury and illness rate continues a pattern of decline that, apart from an increase in 2012, occurred annually for the last 13 years. Private industry employers reported nearly 48,000 fewer nonfatal injury and illness cases in 2015 compared to 2014.
While the numbers are trending downward, it is not enough according to speakers at Cleveland’s Workers’ Memorial Day ceremony.
“As business owners and management, we know a company is only as good as its workers,” said Tim Linville, Chief Executive Officer of the Construction Employers Association. “We believe that companies who value their people as people will be more successful than those who treat people as numbers or statistics. Our people go out there every day, day-in and day-out in the northeast Ohio elements and build our communities and we are committed to protecting them.”
Patrick Gallagher, North Shore AFL-CIO Executive Board President, said the hardest thing a union representative will ever deal with is a workplace fatality.
“When you see the shock, awe and pain the family suffers when a worker is tragically killed, it’s something that you never forget.” said Gallagher.
Workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses are preventable though.
Ken Atha, Regional Administrator for OSHA Region V, believes workers should have a right to go to work and come home safely. It is everyone’s responsibility to report an unsafe worksite.
“Sometimes we may look like we’re bystanders; we’ll see things going on around us,” said Atha. “We don’t have to be bystanders. I consider us all to be up-standers for workers’ safety and health.”
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson was also on-hand to read a proclamation declaring April 28 Workers’ Memorial Day in Cleveland.
Following the ceremony, union members, including many from various affiliates of the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades, attended the Indians game. The large group was supposed to walk in an on-field parade around the warning track, but rain forced Indians officials to cancel the parade.
Services and other Workers’ Memorial Day ceremonies were held across Ohio, including events in Akron, Canton, Lima, Elyria, Lorain and Toledo.