by James Parks, Apr 28, 2011
On Workers Memorial Day, the global union movement is warning that more lives will be lost at work if business groups and companies around the world succeed in reducing legal protections against hazardous jobs. In the United States, Big Business and congressional Republicans have launched campaigns to turn back health and safety regulations, claiming they hinder competitiveness.
Workers Memorial Day is observed by trade unions around the globe and today there are observances in more than 50 countries. To find out what’s going on around the world for Workers Memorial Day, click here.
Trade unions are challenging the rigged statistics and bogus arguments being used by business interests that care more about profit than the lives of the people who work for them, said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
“Consider the devastation wrought a year ago by the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” Burrow says.
Eleven lives lost, environmental devastation and economic costs to the economy in the billions—all down to an appalling disregard for safety aided and abetted by an absence of effective regulation and official oversight. Lessons from this and other disasters like the Fukushima complex in Japan show how critically important regulation and enforcement is. Added to this, “slow burn” disasters like asbestos mean today’s failures to regulate can have a deadly legacy spanning two generations and killing millions.
The AFL-CIO “Death on the Jobs” report, released yesterday, showed that in 2009 (the latest figures available), 4,340 workers were killed on the job in the United States—an average of 12 workers a day—and an estimated 50,000 died of occupational diseases. More than 4.1 million workplace injuries and illnesses were reported in private and state and local workplaces. But the report says the 4.1 million “understates the problem,” and the actual number is more likely 8 million to 12 million. Click here for the full report.
The report also backs the ITUC call for strong health and safety regulations:
The nation must renew the commitment to protect workers from injury, disease and death and make this a high priority. Employers must meet their responsibilities to protect workers and be held accountable if they put workers in danger. Only then can the promise of safe jobs for all of America’s workers be fulfilled.
While accidents at work kill hundreds of thousands each year around the globe, this total is dwarfed by the number of deaths from occupational diseases such as work-related cancers. The World Health Organization estimates the annual toll from asbestos-related diseases alone at 107,000 deaths a year. Burrow says:
There is plenty of evidence to show the importance and value of proper regulation and enforcement. Lives are saved, and the huge economic costs of occupational accidents and disease are reduced. Studies indicate that possibly more than 20 per cent of major killers worldwide, including cancers, heart and respiratory disease, are related to work. All these are preventable.
Vibrant unions, tough regulation and effective enforcement can ensure safer workplaces, Burrow says.
Harnessing the on-the-ground knowledge of workers, backed by their unions, is crucial for preventing death and illness. Protection, including through respect for workers’ rights to trade union representation, should be expanded and not curtailed in an outbreak of deregulatory fever. Removing or weakening regulations, and depriving workers of union protection costs lives.