While today we take for granted the belief that every worker has a fundamental right to safety on the job, for centuries workers have suffered from unclean, unsafe, or hazardous work environments. Labor unions were among the first groups to advocate and fight for worker safety and health, calling attention to those who suffered illness, injury, or even death on the job.
It wasn’t until the early 1970s in the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Act went into effect and OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) was formed, bringing attention to working conditions and safety regulations. However, job-related illness and injury continue to plague workers, not only in the U.S., but across the globe.
Tragically, each year, there are hundreds of thousands of preventable workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths. According to the Center for Disease Control, there were over 5,000 work-related deaths in 2018, representing 3.5 fatal injuries per 100 full-time equivalent workers. This is in addition to that same year’s 2.8 million non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses. Per the CDC, there are up to 709,792 chronic occupational illnesses every year. Since 2010, preventable work-related deaths have increased 17 percent.
The impact of all these occupational illnesses and injuries reaches worker families and, more broadly, into society as a whole. The social cost of medical expenses and productivity loss alone is extremely high.
Workers Memorial Day
“Workers Memorial Day impels us to work for a future where no one should have to risk their life for a paycheck.” – 2021 Presidential Proclamation on Workers Memorial Day
Since its founding in 1989, Workers Memorial Day has grown into an international movement. Marked every year on April 28, the day is honored by employers, labor unions, and allies across dozens of countries. We are encouraged to remember workers who lost their lives, those who became ill, those who have been injured, those who have become disabled, and those with chronic conditions due to poor working conditions.
Moreover, we are called to action on behalf of the millions of workers who remain at risk every day, simply for working. Especially concerning are those injuries and illnesses that are preventable.
Now more than ever we recognize how essential workers are, how much we depend on them across multiple industries, and how often those at highest risk are from the most vulnerable populations. Workers Memorial Day calls us to no longer take any worker for granted, and to advocate for their health and safety as part of our entire society’s wellbeing.
Mesothelioma is a Preventable Workplace Disease
Mesothelioma is a disease whose only known cause is exposure to asbestos. Not only is there no cure for mesothelioma, but the disease claims the lives of approximately 2,500 people every year. Since asbestos is not an essential element for any building, vehicle, or component, mesothelioma is an entirely preventable disease.
According to the National Institute of Health, mesothelioma is a form of cancer that “affects the cells that make up the mesothelium. The mesothelium is the lining or membrane that covers and protects various internal organs of the body.” The most common form of mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs and chest, but it can also affect the heart and testicles.
It’s common for mesothelioma to be diagnosed years, even decades after a worker has been exposed, making it difficult to hold employers responsible. It’s also common for the symptoms of mesothelioma to be mistaken for other ailments, delaying diagnosis and treatment. While surgery is an option if the disease is caught at an early stage, patients usually receive chemotherapy and/or radiation.
How Does Asbestos Cause Mesothelioma?
Once celebrated for its many useful qualities, asbestos is now more widely known as the cause of fatal diseases like mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer, which kill approximately 300,000 people each year. For nearly a century, asbestos was used in metal work, manufacturing, and in building materials across many industries because it was inexpensive, lightweight, strong, and heat resistant
Between the 1950s and the 1980s, nearly every home, school, and workplace across every state contained some sort of asbestos material. Because asbestos fibers are flexible, lightweight, strong, and naturally heat resistant, it was commonly used as insulation or to strengthen other materials.
However, when products made with asbestos are disturbed, whether from installation, cleaning, repair, or removal, millions of undetectable asbestos fibers can be released into the air. This happened frequently when pipes were cut and fitted, or simply from the everyday use of heat shielding gloves or aprons.
The tiny, airborne asbestos fibers can then be inhaled or swallowed. Once lodged inside the lungs, soft tissues, or other organs, asbestos causes lasting and often fatal damage. Unfortunately, the risks of asbestos-related injury and disease are often spread to a workers’ family when asbestos fibers travel home on a workers’ clothes, skin, hair, and belongings. Second-hand asbestos exposure can also happen to anyone working or passing through a site where asbestos was present.
All Workers Deserve Safety
On Workers Memorial Day, SWMW Law honors all the workers who have been injured or made ill because of workplace hazards. We remember those who died from their illness or injury. Most importantly, we continue to fight for those who may still face dangerous working conditions, especially concerning asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, one of our core practice areas. Every day we advocate for asbestos victims and their loved ones so that we can have a stronger, healthier workforce.
To learn more about our team, our services, and how we can serve you, contact our team today.