The What, When and Why of Workers’ Memorial Day: Things to Know and Remember This April 28

Workers' Memorial Day on April 28 honors those fatally injured at work.
By: | April 21, 2022

When we hop out of bed and get ourselves dressed for work each day, rarely are we concerned that it will be for the last time. Eat, sleep, work, repeat. It’s our routine.

But then there are the days, the tragic, unexpected ones, when a mishap or an accident changes everything. It’s sudden. It’s jarring. It’s the unimaginable, and yet it can and does happen.

In 2019, 5,333 workers lost their lives on the job as a result of traumatic injuries, an increase from 2018, according to fatality data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number dropped in 2020 by 10.7%, likely a direct correlation to the pandemic, in which fewer workers were on a physical job site.

“Employers have made incredible strides in creating safer workplaces, investing and innovating to protect their people. But the zero injury goal remains elusive, especially for high-risk industries,” said Michelle Kerr, national workers’ compensation editor for Risk & Insurance and National Comp conference chair.

Employers, and the safety and workers’ compensation industries that serve them, work tirelessly everyday to put in place the policies, procedures, training and tools to prevent any type of on-the-job injury.

Yet even with the best laid plans in place, accidents still happen.

That is why, every year, we honor those workers who lost their lives on the job with Workers’ Memorial Day, held annually on April 28.

The History of Workers’ Memorial Day

The very first Workers’ Memorial Day came on April 28, 1989, 19 years after the the legislative anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. This act gave the federal government the authority to set and enforce safety and health standards for the country’s workers.

It also established a new order for the workplace. It made having a safe job a fundamental right for workers — something that was lacking for centuries before.

Workers’ Memorial Day is a set standard to remember those who have fallen while on the job, as well as a commitment to finding improved safety regulations for the workers of today.

It was first celebrated by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the largest workers union organization in the U.S.

Since its inception, AFL-CIO continues to push for a safer environment at work every day, through pandemic and all other disruptions thrown the workforce’s way.

Occupational injuries, illness and death have such a huge impact on the families of these workers, their colleagues, employers and society at large. Significant changes have been put into effect since the induction of OSHA, but there is always, always, always more to be done.

“The employers and industry professionals we speak with are deeply committed to the safety and health of every employee,” said Kerr.

“New solutions and cutting-edge technologies are being developed every day that help employers create the safest workplaces possible. The workers’ comp industry doesn’t just help employers care for injured workers, it helps them find better, smarter, more creative ways to prevent injuries and fatalities.”

Some Stats of Note

The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a report each year on fatalities in the workplace. Below are stats from its 2020 report, as well as AFL-CIO additional findings.

  • In 2020, someone died on the job every 111 minutes. This equaled about 13 fatalities per day.
  • Motor vehicle accidents accounted for 37.3% of work-related deaths.
  • Hispanic or Latinx fatalities accounted for 22.5% of 2020’s total, an increase from 2019’s 20.4%.
  • Agriculture, mining, oil and gas extraction, transportation and construction were the top industries where worker deaths occurred.
  • An estimated 95,000 workers died from occupational diseases in 2019.
  • States with the highest fatalities in 2019 included: Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota, Montana and West Virginia.
  • Workplace violence is also on the rise, as AFL-CIO reported 841 deaths in the workplace were a direct result in 2019.

Ways to Join in Remembrance

Workers’ Memorial Day 2022 is fast approaching, and the nation is already abuzz with opportunities to give back, support and honor those who’ve experienced such tragedy.

OSHA lists just some of the events lined up this April 28, from memorial gatherings in Florida to services held in Georgia and Alabama.

Philaposh, a Philadelphia-based organization centered on occupational safety and health, will celebrate the 33rd anniversary of Workers’ Memorial Day with a breakfast for the families of those in the area who’ve lost a loved one, followed by a service in their honor.

Workers’ Memorial Day is also an important day for Kids’ Chance, whose state organizations provide scholarships and support to the kids of workers who have been injured on the job.

“On Workers’ Memorial Day, we remember and mourn workers who have been killed or injured at work,” said Vicki Burkhart, executive director, Kids’ Chance of America. “The Kids’ Chance community observes this day in honor of the families we serve. We want to support them in every way we can.”

Since its inception in 1988, Kids’ Chance has awarded over 8,700 scholarships totaling $30 million dollars.

“We know when a worker is injured or killed on the job, it doesn’t just affect them. It affects their entire family. So many things change — and become out of reach. Kids’ Chance was formed to help these families by giving their kids a chance at a better future,” said Ken Martino, president, Kids’ Chance of America.

The Kids’ Chance National Conference kicks off April 28 in Charlotte, N.C., followed by three days of networking opportunities for the Kids’ Chance state organizations, as well as a host of workshops designed to enhance their philanthropic outreach including — identifying eligible kids.

Workers’ Memorial Day is a chance for everyone to get involved and spread the message of workplace safety, because spreading awareness is truly the first step. Honoring the workers who’ve lost their lives on the job should go beyond April 28 and long into every safety protocol put into play. &

Kids’ Chance is the official charity of National Comp, the largest workers’ compensation conference in the country presented by Risk & Insurance.

If you know a family that may be eligible for a Kids’ Chance scholarship, please refer them to the Planning for the Future initiative so they get connected to the right state.

Autumn Demberger is a freelance writer and can be reached at [email protected].

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