Why do we still need to discuss the importance of workplace safety? Let’s examine how it’s still an issue today!
Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
Another March 25h is here and I’m still remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Every year I reflect on this day and think of the brave women, men and children who were not only victims on that fateful day, but were also there to lead the charge on the picket line to demand reform in the Garment Worker’s Uprising of 1909. But have we yet learned our lesson? Is this really no longer an issue? Let’s examine where we are in society today and why we still need to discuss the importance of workplace safety.
Current workplace safety statistics
I’d love to say that US workplaces are safer today than they were the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Yes, there are more safety protocols and inspections, but workplace safety is still a very valid concern.
The current death toll due to fires and explosions in the workplace is an average of 200 deaths per year. And that is not necessarily in professions expected to be working with those elements. In addition to fatalities, more than 5,000 workers are injured in fires or explosions each year. These statistics come largely from incidents on construction sites, transportation workers, factories etc.
In general, U.S. fatal workplace injuries are steadily increasing and are at their highest in years. In 2021, there were 5,190 fatal work injuries recorded, an 8.9% increase from 4,764 reported in 2020. This equates to a 3.6% fatal occupational injury rate- the highest rate since 2016!
To illustrate- that is an average of 14 workers dying per day and the equivalent of one worker dying every 101 minutes!
Child labor violations are also on the rise!
In 2015- the lowest point in data, the Wage and Hour Division found 1,012 minors employed in violation of child labor laws in the U.S.In 2022, that number more than tripled to 3,876! In addition to the numbers, the concern is investigators are finding a rising number of children working in dangerous jobs like meatpacking plants, loading docks and metal shops.
What should we do with this information?
We start by identifying and talking about it. One of the biggest issues is a lack of knowledge. We think it’s 2023, that can’t possibly still be happening. And yet, it most definitely is.
We then must examine solutions. Labor Unions were steadily declining in past decades, but since Covid that’s been changing.They are now at an all-time high in favorability ratings. “Half the workforce said they would join a union today if given the opportunity because they know that without the power of a union, workers are helpless.” Richard Trumka- President of American Federation of Labor.
With Covid, questions of who is “essential”, what safeties are protected and more have all been brought to the forefront of conversation. We need to continue having those discussions.And we need to accept that, “Support for unions is not just about wages and benefits. It’s respect, it’s dignity and it’s health and safety,” (Trumka).
We need to prioritize the importance of workplace safety.
As we continue to recover from the pandemic and return to the workplace and discuss the future, these issues of worker’s rights and safety need to come to the forefront. We need to educate others about these safety concerns and we need to channel those brave garment workers to stand up for change today!
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