Department of Labor Logo OSHA News Release - Region 7


April 16, 2024

 

US Department of Labor provides support to families of fallen workers, stresses importance of workplace safety on Workers Memorial Day

Lincoln native is OSHA's first national family liaison for grieving families, survivors

 

Tonya Ford became OSHA's first National Family Liaison in 2023
Tonya Ford became OSHA's first National Family Liaison in 2023

LINCOLN, NE ‒ Fifteen years after the fatal, work-related incident that took the life of Waverly High Alumni Tonya Malley Ford's uncle, she has turned her family's loss into a national event.

In 2009, a routine day for the family of Robert Fitch turned into grief after the 51-year-old fell from a belt-operated manlift device in an agricultural company in Lincoln. From that moment, Fitch's niece turned her family's grief for her Uncle Bobby ‒ a gentle soul with a great sense of humor and an enduring love for family ‒ into honoring and recognizing the men and women who went to work and never came home to their families at the end of their shift. View a workplace safety video featuring Robert Fitch.

Struggling to deal with the sudden loss of her beloved uncle, Ford began doing research and learned that about 15 U.S. workers suffer fatal injuries on the job each day. In fact, Fitch was one of 4,551 workers to die in 2009.

With the help of local unions, she has spent the last 13 years bringing families from across Nebraska together once a year for a Workers Memorial Day ceremony on the steps of the statehouse in Lincoln. As it grew, Ford led efforts to couple the event with free awareness conferences where experts discuss the importance of workplace safety with employers, workers and the public.

"I understood little about workplace safety and rights before my uncle's death. After a work-related incident, you often feel alone like nobody understands what you and your family are going through," Ford explained. "Not only has the loss of my uncle changed my life, but the families I have connected with over the years have truly made a difference in my life. I hold each of their stories close to my heart."

In 2023, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration hired Ford as the nation's first National Family Liaison. In her role, she offers support, guidance and resources to thousands of U.S. families directly affected by a workplace incident, illness and disease.

"My position is to help those left behind, whether that be a listening ear or helping them find answers to the many questions one has after such a loss," Ford continued. "Working for OSHA allows me to connect with more families across the country in their time of need with the wish that one day, my position will no longer be needed because every worker will go home safe at the end of the day."

Each year on April 28, Workers Memorial Day honors and recognizes workers whose lives were claimed by a work-related incident, illness or disease, and remembers those they have left behind.

Nebraska's Workers Memorial Day ceremony will be held on Sunday, April 28 at 7 p.m. CDT at the state capitol.

Like Nebraska, OSHA will hold online and in-person Workers Memorial Day events in Washington, D.C., from April 22-April 25. Learn more about OSHA's Workers Memorial Day 2024 event and share the news with those who would appreciate the chance to join the events and honor our fallen workers. 

Family members of a fallen workers or those affected by a fatal workplace incident are encouraged to visit the OSHA condolences webpage.


 
Media Contacts:

Scott Allen, 312-353-4727, allen.scott@dol.gov
Rhonda Burke, 312-353-4807, burke.rhonda@dol.gov  

Release Number: 24-712-KAN