To honor workers who have been injured or killed on the job, over one hundred workers, union, government representatives and residents gathered in front of the Massachusetts State House on Monday.
The memorial event, part of the Workers Memorial Day Commemoration, was organized by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health. It honored those who had been killed or injured in the workplace in 2013.
In attendance were representatives of labor unions, such as Building Trades Council and Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative, as well as Massachusetts Sen. Ken Donnelly and other representatives of the state legislature.
“In 2013, we lost almost 50 workers, almost 50 employees of workplace related death, and countless more undocumented cancer and illnesses,” said Steven Tolman, president of The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
It is imperative people fight to give Occupational Safety and Health Administration the ability to properly penalize and investigate worker safety violations and workplace conditions, Tolman said, which is something that must be done at the federal level.
“We need to ensure that our public employees are protected on the job sites and without the resources OSHA needs, we run the risk of losing more workers each year to occupational tragedies,” he said. “We need to change the mindset so that the number one priority of all employees is making sure that all workers are able to get home safely.
Rachel Kaprielian, secretary of Massachusetts Labor and Workforce Development, said any workplace death is unacceptable, and we should not fight to for less workplace incidents, but for no workplace incidents.
“It is a solemn day to be here to commemorate 48 workers in Massachusetts who lost their lives on the job,” she said. “As has been said, one death is too many. We know that the majority of workplaces accidents were preventable, caused by preventable hazards. We must recommit ourselves to support, encourage and require that employers institute proven safety measures at the workplace.”
Kaprielian has been working with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to establish Patrick’s Executive Order 511, which established the Massachusetts Employees Safety and Health Advisory Committee to improve worker health and safety.
“On any given day in Massachusetts, over 3 million residents report to a job,” she said. “I will stand with you and fight so that none of our three-and-a-half million workers has to sacrifice their health or safety for their paycheck.”
While several attendees were there to show respect to friends and family who had lost their lives while at work, others were in attendance to show support for the cause.
David Graham, 67, of Natick, was there to mourn the loss of a friend, Michael McDaniel, whom he had known for more than 23 years.
“We worked together at the Town of Natick Water Department,” he said. “He and my friend Scott Sperling were injured in an accident involving a backhoe truck. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It’s something we are forced to deal with every day.”
Melissa King, 31, of Boston, was there to pay respect to her father, who lost his life while working at Logan International Airport in 2005. She is advocating for the Family Burial Benefit Bill, which will give more money to families of workers who had died on the job in order to be able to provide funeral services.
“This is the ninth year since my father died,” she said. “He was electrocuted while working at Logan Airport. It’s important to try and make a change. Right now, $4,000 is provided to families, but that doesn’t begin to cover the cost of a funeral. More money would make a difference at a time when a family doesn’t want to worry about costs.”
Andrea Sheldon, 22, of Boston, was there to learn more to show support for a cause that she works for every day.
“I do research in construction health and safety,” she said. “Right now we’re focusing on total worker health and safety in order to teach workers how to be as safe and as healthy as possible while on the job. Everyone wants to be able to enjoy their retirement, but at the end of the day, if they’re not healthy, they might not make it there.”