Dr. David Michaels
Assistant Secretary of Labor
For Occupational Safety and Health
Workers Memorial Day: Tree Planting Ceremony
Frances Perkins Labor Building
10:30 a.m. Thursday, April 28, 2011
Welcome, everyone. Thank you for joining us.
With us today are three special guests: Deputy Secretary Seth Harris, Solicitor of Labor Patricia Smith, and Mine Safety and Health Administration Assistant Secretary Joe Main.
Today, on Workers Memorial Day, I am proud to announce that OSHA and the Department of Labor are establishing a long-overdue memorial to America's fallen workers.
More than 4,000 workers of all ages died on the job last year. Today we acknowledge their loss, grieve with their families and friends, and resolve to honor their memory by pursuing OSHA's mission to assure the safety and health of America's workforce.
Earlier this month we noted the one-year anniversaries of three workplace disasters: We recalled the deaths of 7 workers killed last April in the Tesoro refinery explosion in Washington State; the 29 workers killed in the Upper Big Branch mine; and the 11 workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.
These are the few workplace tragedies that have been chronicled in the national headlines, but they don't tell the whole story. Every day in our country an average of 12 workers are killed on the job – a Deepwater Horizon every day, an Upper Big Branch every other day.
If a Deepwater Horizon-like disaster was on the seven o'clock news every evening, there would be a public outcry. But because these thousands of deaths usually happen one at a time, in different towns large and small across the country, they rarely make headlines, they rarely are noted, and they drive no change.
The faces of some of these workers appear on easels in this hall. These photos of workers who have died on the job were donated to OSHA by their families, and these portraits are also on the walls of OSHA's conference room upstairs. They remind us whom we're working for – not only on Workers Memorial Day, but every day of the year.
The photos and our new memorial that we will inaugurate today also remind us of the great battle cry of activist Mother Jones, who instructed us to "Mourn for the dead, and fight like hell for the living."
Today we mourn the workers who died in the last year because their employers failed to provide personal protective equipment, training or supervision, or because their employers failed to follow basic safety procedures such as lock-out/tag out.
So, today we dedicate our memorial to these workers and to all the workers over the years whose lives were cut short by preventable workplace hazards.
OSHA at 40
Today is also OSHA's birthday. On this day 40 years ago this agency began fulfilling the mission set down by Congress to assure the safety and health of America's workers and end the carnage in our Nation's workplaces.
It's hard to believe that 40 years ago, most workers in America had no basic human right to a safe workplace.
Before OSHA, when a worker was killed on the job, perhaps there was an investigation; perhaps not. There was no legal compulsion to fix the problem so that another worker didn't face the same risk the next day.
OSHA faced much criticism when it began. The agency still has its critics, but the evidence is clear: OSHA has made a difference. Forty years of common-sense standards and strong enforcement, training, outreach and compliance assistance have saved thousands of lives and prevented countless injuries.
Look at the difference: In 1970, 38 working men, women and teens in America died from a workplace injury; now it's 12 a day. This is a great improvement, but it's still 12 too many.
To remind us here in the National Office about OSHA's contributions to worker safety and health, we created a new poster highlighting many of OSHA's milestones. When you look at even this abbreviated list of reforms, I hope you will feel pride for all this agency has accomplished for our Nation's workforce. I hope this poster also fills you with hope for the great achievements that lie ahead.
Heat Hazard Campaign
Now, while we celebrate 40 years of progress and work to expand public awareness of OSHA's mission and value, we are moving ahead with new initiatives. To promote prevention as the best way to save lives, we are initiating a number of activities:
Today OSHA is launching a nationwide campaign to educate workers and employers about the hazards of working outdoors in the heat. We want them to know the steps they can take to prevent heat illnesses.
Water, rest and shade: These are three little words that make a big difference for outdoor workers during the hot summer months.
Each year, thousands of outdoor workers experience heat illnesses. And every year, heat kills dozens of workers
Heat is a serious hazard for many occupations: roofing workers, farm laborers, transportation workers such as baggage handlers, construction and road workers pouring concrete, landscapers and greenhouse workers, and oil and gas workers.
Because Latino workers get sick and die from outdoor heat exposure at a higher rate than others, our heat hazard campaign will particularly reach out to these vulnerable workers. Our print and website information on heat illness prevention will be available in both English and Spanish.
To support our campaign, we have created new materials that use pictures to show what symptoms to look for, what to do to prevent heat illness, and what to do in an emergency – all built around those three important words: water, rest, shade.
We also worked closely with California OSHA to adapt materials from its successful campaign in 2010.
And OSHA is partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA will now include worker safety precautions in all its Heat Advisories and Warnings this coming summer.
So, please, remember this campaign throughout the coming weeks and months, and look for every opportunity to remind people to stay safe in extreme heat.
Another activity that we're launching in the next few days to observe OSHA's 40th anniversary is a photo contest.
The contest, which is called Picture It! Safe Workplaces for Everyone, is open to the public nationwide, as well as to our OSHA family in a separate contest.
We're asking anyone with a passion for photography to capture an image of workplace safety and health and share it with OSHA. I'm looking forward to the results of this national collaboration to raise awareness of workplace safety and health issues.
While our Nation has made great progress since the OSH Act created OSHA, much work remains to be done.
Today, as a memorial to workers killed on the job, we are planting an America Dogwood here by the Frances Perkins Building.
This memorial will be planted in the yard opposite the DOL Daycare playground. This strong, resilient tree will serve as a living symbol of the roots of our commitment to every worker in America. Its new blooms each April will symbolize the hope we hold for better days ahead for workers everywhere.
This tree will also serve as a call to action:
We must commit ourselves to address the many worker safety and health challenges still facing us today.
We must rededicate ourselves to the original promise of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
We must ensure that all workers in the United States come home safely to their families after a day's work.
The spirits of those who died and those who lived to fight for better conditions urge us to meet these challenges. Their spirits call out to us to achieve the goals that all Americans strive for: Healthier Workers, Safer Workplaces, and a Stronger America.
Late yesterday we received news that President Barack Obama has signed an official White House proclamation recognizing Workers Memorial Day.
I'd like to read to you a portion of this proclamation:
"On Workers Memorial Day, we reflect on the vital achievements of the past and recommit to keeping all workers safe and healthy in the future. We owe nothing less to the countless working Americans who have built and shaped our Nation, and to those who have lost their lives or been injured on the job.
"NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 28, 2011, as Workers Memorial Day."
At this time, let's honor the memory of fallen workers with a moment of silence...
...I want to once again thank our special guests for helping us to recognize Workers Memorial Day.
Thanks to everyone who has joined us today to be part of this new memorial – and thank you for everything you do every day on behalf of our Nation's workers.