Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Workers Memorial Day

Today is Workers Memorial Day, a day we all recognize as a time to lament the loss of workers throughout the world. There are plenty of rallies and demonstrations out there for you to participate in if you wish, but I use this day to reflect.

Anyone out there who thinks we have one of those cushy government jobs should spend a couple of days with one of us as we do a fatality investigation. It's been a quite few years since I did my first fatality, but my memories of it are as vivid today as they were then. Looking down and realizing I was standing in the blood of a man who was, at that very moment, in the morgue, his wife and child just finding out. They say you never forget your first, and they're right.

I get asked every now and then why I work for OSHA. I get asked by friends and family, employers, employees and once in awhile by people on the street. Some of them ask with curiosity, some with disdain and even a few with respect. I always try to explain, but I'm never very good at it, maybe it's because I lack the words or maybe because there are no words to describe what I've seen. When I was young my father gave me a poster. It showed a beautiful waterfall ending in a deep pool of water surrounded by vegetation and a caption that said "If you do not understand my silence, you will not understand my words."

For me Worker's Memorial Day isn't about rallies and people railing against injustice, for me it is about remembering those past fatality investigations and taking a moment of silence. I hope you understand.


  1. Thanks for your comments, which are very much appreciated by those of us who have had loved ones affected by workplace hazards.

  2. In the early 1980s, I was a laid off Safety Professional and accepted a job at OSHA as a temporary position (until the recession cooled off.) My passion for the profession, however, only “heated up” after experiencing the "sense of job accomplishment" while working at OSHA -- i.e., through the authority vested to a law enforcement officer to accomplish hazard abatement. This so called temporary job lasted 25 + years because there is no better job than working for OSHA and knowing that you make a difference by improving workplace safety for the American people. OSHA folks can be proud, especially when you know that your quality work and actions saved someone from pain and suffering. This satisfaction is best achieved through inspiring employers and employees to address root causes by implementing effective management systems that manage safety and health.

    Conversely, in order to cope with the traumatic job stress involved with catastrophes and fatality investigations, I believe that it is important to know that you did a quality incident investigation inspection. Accurate and verifiable fact finding and evidence gathering by an OSHA investigator is, in my opinion, the most important aspect for the family and friends of the victims.

    Last year, I taped a web-cast with Fred Manuele at OTI. With Fred’s 50+ years of experience in the discipline, he personally thanked each and every one of the OSHA folks for doing what they do. Fred emphasized that the Agency, originally named “Our Savior Has Arrived”, has made incredible advances over the decades and that we should keep up the great work.

    On this Workers’ Memorial day, when Congress held hearing to improve the Act, may we all pray for those workers’ at risk of serious physical harm. As important, please do not forget all of those who died needlessly and those disabled workers who struggle day-to-day to survive with physical, emotional, and financial troubles caused by a workplace injury or illness.