Workers’ Memorial Day was first marked on April 28, 1989, by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). On this same day, 19 years earlier, workers everywhere celebrated the passage of the Safety and Health Act and the formation of the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA). The act aimed to ensure every worker’s fundamental right to job safety and was passed by tireless labor movement efforts.
Not only does this day of remembrance serve to honor the millions of workers who have died while at work, it’s also an opportunity to advocate for safer workplaces for all, especially those who have been injured, disabled, or made sick on the job.
According to AFL-CIO, since the passage of the Safety and Health Act, 647,000 workers’ lives have been saved. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that unsafe workplaces were still the cause of 2.6 million injuries and illnesses in 2021, over 5,000 workplace fatalities, and an alarming increase in repository illnesses across all industries. Worse is that so many of these illnesses and injuries are deemed preventable.
A CENTURY OF EXPOSURE TO ASBESTOS
Among the top five causes of workplace deaths is exposure to harmful substances. One long-known harm comes from workplace exposure to asbestos. This naturally mined material was used in metalwork, manufacturing, and building components across many industries for most of the last century because asbestos fibers are flexible, heat-resistant, lightweight, and strong. These features meant that asbestos was added to countless materials, including:
- Welding rods
- Joint compounds
- Transmission plates
When any of these products are installed, repaired, or removed, millions of undetectable asbestos fibers can be released into the air. 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.
Tragically, 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.
THE DEADLY CONSEQUENCES OF ASBESTOS EXPOSURE
Asbestos causes several chronic and fatal diseases, including mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer. Asbestos-related diseases cause approximately 15,000 deaths a year in the United States, and 90,000 deaths across the globe. Millions more remain at risk of exposure to this day.
Mesothelioma’s only known cause is exposure to asbestos. In addition to being incurable, the disease claims the lives of approximately 2,500 people every year. 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.
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.
Read more about the different types of mesothelioma, current treatments for mesothelioma, top treatment facilities, and the latest clinical studies and trials.
HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN WORKERS’ MEMORIAL DAY
Today, you can join millions in observing Workers’ Memorial Day. This year’s theme is “GLOBAL: Organizing for Health and Safety. Use the hashtag #workersmemorialday across social media to raise awareness. You can also read and consider having your workplace take the Safety Pledge of the National Security Council. According to the NSC, workplace deaths totaled 4.472 in 2021, and workplace injuries totaled 4.26 million. If you’re looking for a Workers’ Memorial Day event in your area, use this OSHA website to find one in your state.
At SWMW Law, we advocate daily for workers who have been harmed by asbestos exposure, and we remember those who have died from their asbestos-related illnesses. We help hold businesses and insurance companies accountable for knowingly exposing workers to danger. Mesothelioma remains one of our core practice areas, and you can click here to learn more about our team, services, and how we can help you.