28 April, 201528 April is the International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured Workers. The day is also known as Workers’ Memorial Day, the Day of Mourning, or World Day for Safety and Health at Work. Most importantly, it is a day for unions to renew their commitment to safety and health at work.
Controlling exposure to toxic substances is one theme that global unions have chosen to emphasize in 2015. Of the hundreds of thousands of chemicals in industrial use, we have substantial knowledge of the health effects of only a small percentage; and suspect that many unidentified killers are among the rest.
Minerals such as silica, and asbestos (which will be a focal point for IndustriALL head office this year) continue to kill thousands of workers. The International Labour Organization estimates that over 80 percent of work-related deaths are caused by occupational diseases, rather than the sudden violent accidents that usually get the most attention.
Latency (the time between first exposure, and the development of a disease); chronicity (diseases that destroy health but take a very long time to kill); and the problem of multiple exposures and confounding factors (both smoking and asbestos cause lung cancer, for example) make the link between the workplace and an occupational disease very difficult to prove. Misdiagnosis and active concealment in many cases make it even harder.
Observance of 28 April as a day to mourn the dead, and fight for the living, began in Canada and spread to other countries. The date gains greater local, national and international recognition each year.
Brian Kohler, health and safety director at IndustriALL Global Union, says:
It is important that 28 April does not become yet another day of tired reminders blaming accidents on worker carelessness. It is a major date in the trade union calendar; a day for workers to demand their rights to know about the hazards of their work; to refuse or shut down unsafe work, and to participate in the health and safety structures and systems at their place of work.
Safety at work is really very simple: workers have rights; employers have responsibilities. Every occupational death is needless death.