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Whipple: Workers Memorial Day is a time for remembrance, reflection

In 2021, a young Vermont worker was killed after being crushed by a large container when the rigging holding the container gave way. Another died after falling nearly 30 feet from a ladder, and third died when the safety harness they were wearing failed.

These are a few of the workplace fatalities investigated by the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA) over the past year, and like many incidents, were found to be preventable. On average, VOSHA investigates six workplace related fatal incidents each year, and as many as 12 in one recent year, as well as many more non-fatal incidents that cause lasting bodily harm to workers. In total, about 5,000 workers died in the U.S. in work-related incidents in 2020.

Each year, on April 28, we at VOSHA join the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and workplace safety advocates across the nation to observe Workers Memorial Day, remembering those whose lives ended because of the work they did. It is a day for us to mourn these losses and how their absence affects those who shared their lives. They were our family members, our friends, our co-workers, and neighbors. We are diminished by their deaths.

Workers Memorial Day reminds us that like life, workplace safety and health must never be taken for granted. These tragedies and their causes should inspire us all to demand that workplace safety be a fact of life and never an afterthought. We must strive to ensure safety and health standards are in place and that they are understood and followed by employers and workers alike. Workers have the right to safe and healthy workplaces, and employers have the legal obligation to ensure that they provide them.

The Vermont Department of Labor and its VOSHA team strive every day to ensure worker safety in Vermont. We aim to also assist employers across the state in their efforts to provide a safe and healthy workplace. Our compliance assistance outreach helps to educate employers about strategies that can be used to protect Vermont workers, preventing workplace injuries and illnesses. Through strategic alliances with employers, trade associations, organized labor, and our workplace safety programs, we help to empower businesses to employ customized safety and health approaches and make meaningful and substantial improvements.

Workers are indeed the backbone of our economy, both here in Vermont and across the country.  We must do everything we can to help protect every working Vermonter and listen to their concerns for safety. I encourage any worker that is concerned about their safety or health, as well as any employer interested in learning more about bettering their safety practices, to contact the Department of Labor at labor.vermont.gov/workplace-safety.

As we mark another Workers Memorial Day, remember that no worker should ever have to risk their life in exchange for their paycheck. In fact, each of us has a role to play in making our workplaces safe. We owe those Vermonters who we lost in the last year, and all those we honor today, at least that much. 

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This piece is authored by Dan Whipple, program manager for the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA), which operates under the Vermont Department of Labor and serves to protect the health and safety of working Vermonters. 

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