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Workers Memorial Day 2011

Posted on Apr 27, 2011
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Dying At Work In California: The Hidden Stories Behind The Numbers

One year ago, Hans Petersen, a 30-year old solar panel installer, stepped backwards off the roof of a multi-story apartment building in San Pablo, California. He was not wearing personal fall protection equipment and fell to his death.

In October 2010, two Northern California healthcare workers died in separate incidents of workplace violence. Cynthia Barraca Palomata, a registered nurse, was attacked and killed by an inmate at the Martinez county jail after he faked a seizure and was taken to the nurse’s station. That same month, Donna Gross, a psychiatric technician, was strangled and killed by an inmate at Napa State Hospital. The Napa facility had been under scrutiny for many years, with co-workers reporting that assaults by patients were common and that the murder was “waiting to happen.”

Last month, a Stockton judge accepted a plea deal allowing criminal defendants to escape any jail time in the 2008 heat death of pregnant 17-year old farm worker Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez. Maria Isabel died of a heat-related illness after working nine straight hours, without access to water or shade, in the boiling heat of the grape fields of Stockton.

These stories of Californians who died at work are profiled in “Dying at Work in California: The Hidden Stories Behind the Numbers,” a publication produced by Worksafe and the Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (SoCalCOSH), to be released on Workers Memorial Day, April 28, 2011.

- Report available for download: Click here -

The publication will be available at www.worksafe.org beginning Thursday, April 28, and at the first official appearance of Ellen Widess, newly appointed director of Cal/OSHA, on April 30, from 1pm to 2pm at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center Workers Memorial Day event.

On an average day in the US, 12 workers lose their lives as a result of workplace injuries, and another 137 workers die from occupational diseases. Since 1970, when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was enacted, over 400,000 workers’ lives have been saved due to improvements in job safety protections.

Here in California, nearly 500 workers have died at work every year since 2003. In 2009, the most recent year for which (preliminary) data is available, 301 California workers died on the job. Although the number of workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses have been on the decline since peaking in 2006, workplace health and safety issues continue to be overlooked.

On Saturday, April 30, working families from Los Angeles will gather at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center for Workers Memorial Day to honor workers who were injured or killed on the job in California, and to ask legislators to make occupational safety a priority. The message is that lawmakers must work to create and preserve safe, quality jobs, not dismantle the middle class safety net.

Local community leaders and elected officials will join together to express their outrage at the lack of concern over lax job safety enforcement and standards. Politicians are chipping away at job safety through decreased funding to federal occupational safety agencies and attacks on collective bargaining agreements, which in many states provide the only assurance of a safe workplace. The event will be one of dozens around the country as working families commemorate those who have died on the job.

“Safety laws and regulations don’t kill jobs – but unsafe jobs do kill workers,” said David Simmons of United Steelworkers, Local 675. “Given our struggling economy today, politicians should be working hard to create good jobs, not endangering the lives of working people. We ask that our elected officials think twice about weakening the enforcement of job safety laws and about attacking workers’ right to bargain collectively for better wages, benefits, and safety standards.”

The 2010 AFL-CIO Death on the Job national report will is available as of April 27 at http://www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/memorial/

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Worksafe is a California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting people from job-related hazards and empowering them to advocate for the right to a safe and healthy workplace. For more information, contact Executive Director Gail Bateson at 510-302-1011 or visit www.worksafe.org.

SoCalCOSH is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate, advocate, and mobilize workers, community members, and policymakers to create safe and healthy workplaces in Southern California. For more information, contact Coordinator Shirley Alvarado-del Aguila at 213-346-3277 or visit www.socalcosh.org.

Press Release Contact - Gail Bateson, Worksafe Executive Director: (510) 302-1011

To schedule an interview with a workplace health and safety expert or labor union representative in connection with this report, please contact Sophie Noero at 510-302-1027 or snoero@worksafe.org.

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