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April 21, 1999

Worker Memorial Day - Honoring the memories of Washington's fallen workers

By Gary Moore
Director, Department of Labor & Industries

On Wednesday, April 28, the Department of Labor & Industries will observe Worker Memorial Day, set aside annually to honor and remember the workers who died as a result of workplace injury or illness last year.

Our observance will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, at L&I's central office building in Tumwater.

Worker Memorial Day was established nationally by the AFL-CIO to remember and honor fallen workers, and to focus annual attention on the anniversary of the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. On Wednesday there will be thousands of ceremonies in labor halls and gathering places across the nation.

Here in Washington, L&I's observance is a bit different. In addition to inviting the participation of labor organizations, L&I also extends an invitation to the business community and Washington's Self-Insurers' Association. This joint observance is symbolic of the cooperative approach that I believe will succeed in making Washington workplaces safer and more healthful.

I'm sorry to report that more than 100 Washington workers failed to return home at the end of a work day in 1998. That means that every week - on average - two workers died earning a paycheck.

And I'm even sadder to report that most - if not all - of these deaths could have been prevented. Planning is a key element in the prevention of occupational accidents and illnesses. Employers need to ensure that their employees get proper training, the right equipment and that their accident prevention program is an on-going team effort involving workers and managers.

Every three days, somewhere across Washington, an L&I safety inspector is called out to fulfill the agency's mandate to investigate occupational fatalities. This task is one of the most difficult parts of the job. But it is one that we take seriously and one that is undertaken with hope. We believe that by carefully examining each workplace death to learn what happened and why, we can take steps to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Workplace death needn't be a twice-weekly occurrence in Washington. And we believe that by cooperating in the common pursuit of safer and more healthful work sites, Washington's employers and workers can help us make it happen.

Is there a greater legacy that we could create for the men and women that we remember on Wednesday? I don't believe so.

I urge you to take a moment on Wednesday to honor the memory of fallen workers. But then also take a moment to commit yourself to protecting the living.

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