One American worker is killed on the job every 47 minutes and thousands more die a slow death after exposure to chemicals and other dangerous substances, Ed Mayne, president of the Utah AFL-CIO, said Friday.
Mayne spoke briefly at the Union Labor Center, 2261 S. Redwood Road, during a ceremony to commemorate the 19th anniversary of passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, a measure Mayne said resulted from labor union persistence.He said labor unions will continue to fight for stronger laws to protect workers, including one that allows employees the right to refuse to work in hazardous situations. That will have the side effect of controlling hazardous substances in the work place, he said.
As part of a nationwide observance of OSHA's passage, labor unions and their allies held ceremonies under the theme "Fight for the Living - Mourn for the Dead." At the conclusion of the speeches, Richard Skillicorn, a member of the Letter Carriers' Band, played "Taps" in honor of those killed while working, and the flag was lowered to half-staff.
Mayne noted that when minimum wage legislation was being considered by Congress, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was quoted as saying that once workers received a hike in the minimum wage, they'll want mandatory health insurance and want to be notified they are working around hazardous substances.
"He is absolutely right," Mayne said, "because it is time that people don't have to choose between their lives and keeping their jobs." Mayne promised that before the 1990 Legislature meets, his organization will push for improvements in the workmen's compensation law and mandatory rehabilitation for injured workers.
Another speaker was Patrick J. O'Connor, president of the Injured Worker Association of Utah, who said 10,000 workers die from job-related injuries annually, more than 70,000 workers are permanently disabled each year and 5.6 million workers suffer some form of an industrial accident annually.
"We believe that all Americans have an inalienable right to a safe and hazard-free work place, and only by recognizing this precept can these numbers be reduced," O'Connor said.
He encouraged Gov. Norm Bangerter, Lt. Gov. Val Oveson, the Legislature and the State Industrial Commission to help make Utah a safe place to work.
"Even though the Utah workers compensation system inadequately addresses the needs of injured workers and their families, it shamefully deals with the results rather than the causes of those injuries," O'Connor said.