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More Than a Number: Honoring Workers We’ve Lost

Wanda Engracia speaks at a podium. Her 18-year-old daughter Samatha stands beside her, holding a photo of her deceased father, with a hand on her mother's shoulder.
Wanda Engracia lost her husband, Juan Pablo Morillo, age 30, to an industrial explosion in 2005. Two of his coworkers also died. Wanda was 7 months pregnant with their daughter, Samantha, who stood by her mother’s side at the Labor Department’s Workers Memorial Day event on April 27 in Washington, D.C. Today Wanda is the vice president of United Support & Memorial for Workplace Fatalities.


On April 28, Workers Memorial Day, we pause to remember the workers who have died from job-related injuries and illnesses.

In 2021, there were 5,190 fatal work injuries in the U.S. That is about 14 deaths every day — one every 101 minutes.

These statistics are staggering and alarming. However, those numbers are not the most important thing to remember. Each one of those fatalities is more than a number. Each one is more than a worker. They are people with hobbies, life goals, and family and friends who care deeply about them and now grieve their loss.

As we join the families in reflecting on their memories, we know reflection is not enough. We must also commit to action to keep other families from suffering similar losses.

The most effective thing we can do is insist that employers make safety and health a core value in every workplace in America. That is our standing and shared vision at OSHA. When every workplace has a culture of safety, lives are saved.

To make this vision a reality, we continue to take significant actions to better protect workers. That’s why we have developed new tools and initiatives — from the National Emphasis Program on Outdoor and Indoor Heat-Related Hazards to our trenching enforcement initiative — to help employers build and maintain their own culture of safety and health.

So that people like Mary Archer, whose husband, Patrick Archer, was fatally injured on the job in Lima, Ohio, while performing maintenance work on a machine, won’t have to go to their kids’ sporting events without their soul mate of 20 years. Families like Ron and Betsy Gehrke, whose daughter, Kaylen Gehrke, died from heatstroke on her first day on the job at Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana, won’t have to spend a holiday without their child.

Every employer can be part of the effort to make workplaces safer. Safety and health is for more than just the large companies that can hire professionals to advise them. Medium and small businesses — which are critical to our communities and the nation — can also have strong and effective safety and health management systems. OSHA offers consultation services and has a step-by-step guide designed for those businesses that need some direction to get started on their journey of workplace safety.

On Workers Memorial Day and throughout the year, we encourage everyone to think about the importance of making safety and health a core value in workplaces across the country. Think about the countless people — some may live in your community — who mourn today because today is the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Remember that each worker is far more than a number. Every worker should go home at the end of a shift and a family and community should remain whole.


Doug Parker is the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. Follow OSHA on Twitter at @OSHA_DOL and LinkedIn.


Sourced from Us Dept of Labor

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