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Oregon Renews Focus on Workplace Safety

PHOTO: The Fallen Workers Memorial on the State Capitol Mall is the site of Monday's Worker Memorial Day ceremony. Courtesy of NW Labor Press.
PHOTO: The Fallen Workers Memorial on the State Capitol Mall is the site of Monday's Worker Memorial Day ceremony. Courtesy of NW Labor Press.
April 29, 2013

SALEM, Ore. - Today at noon, a ceremony takes place in Salem to honor Oregonians who have lost their lives on the job in the last year. Workers Memorial Day includes military casualties, as well as workplace deaths.

Oregon OSHA administrator, Michael Wood, said it is not only important to show support for the workers' families, but also to remind everyone in the state that it is worth striving for a day when there will be no names to read aloud at an annual ceremony.

"It's a call to action and a reaffirmation of a commitment to do better - and really, a demand to do better. Because however well we think we've done, we're still confronted with the reality that there are people who have lost their life unnecessarily," he said.

Oregon's on-the-job casualties include fatal falls and logging accidents, he explained, and about one-quarter of them involve traffic accidents. Wood said achieving safer workplaces takes a lot of cooperation. He pointed out that the federal OSHA is able to inspect fewer than 1 percent of the workplaces in its jurisdiction. And even with a department he described as efficient and well-funded, Oregon OSHA only checks on about 4 percent of workplaces in the state.

"That's part of why - especially in what we might think of as low-risk or moderate-risk activities - if there are problems, it's important that employees don't wait and wonder when we will show up," Wood said. "In those contexts, in all likelihood, we won't."

Chip Elliott, assistant directing business representative, International Association of Machinists, said in 38 years on the job, he has seen labor unions make a big difference in reducing deaths and injuries.

"We take safety very seriously; that's a number-one priority for us," Elliott said. "We have safety committees in every operation we represent. We work closely with the companies and our people, to make sure that they go home every night."

Workers Memorial Day is a national observance, held near the date in 1970 when Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The Oregon Workers Memorial Day ceremony begins at noon at the Fallen Workers Memorial in front of the Labor and Industries Building on the Capitol Mall.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR