Workers’ Memorial Week: A time to reflect, while pushing forward with protections for the worker

Statement from Motley Rice occupational safety attorney Anne McGinness Kearse
Prior to April 28, 1970, when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was signed into law, dangerous and potentially deadly work conditions shrouded the American worker like a cloak that, without federal intervention, they were powerless to remove. At the time, on average, more than 14,000 workers succumbed each year to gruesome workplace injuries, and another 2.2 million were harmed. 

Thankfully, in the 48 years since its enactment, the OSH Act, along with the staunch advocacy of the Act’s supporters and likeminded groups have helped curb those numbers, creating a much safer environment for workers. Occupational safety, however, is a never-ending quest. So long as lives remain at risk, there’s always more that we as a nation can do to protect workers, whether through training and oversight, enhanced safety protocols, or the allocation of resources. 

The reality for the American worker today is that roughly 5,000 workers continue to die on the job each year from catastrophic injuries, such as electrocutions, falls, or being struck by a piece of equipment, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. As many as 72,000 others succumb each year to work-related diseases, including mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, leukemia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other ailments caused by toxic exposure, the CDC reports. For this reason, the fight to raise awareness and protect current and future workers is pressing forward, full steam ahead.   
April 23 to April 30, 2018 marks Workers’ Memorial Week — observed each year during the last week in April to commemorate when the OSH Act went into effect. This national initiative is put on by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH), a non-profit coalition of local and statewide groups Motley Rice has a national collaboration with and that aspires to enhance worker safety through advocacy campaigns and the sharing of educational resources. By pausing to remember the lives lost due to workplace accidents, the goal for this annual event is to encourage employers and industry thought leaders to learn from these tragic incidents so that necessary changes can be made. 

My personal commitment to occupational safety and the protection of workers’ rights extends to the early days of my 20-year legal career when I began trying asbestos claims filed for household exposure victims. Sadly, these victims included innocent children and spouses who inhaled toxic asbestos fibers that had contaminated the clothing and belongings of their worker family members. Their stories taught me early on that occupational safety is not just a worker issue — it is a family issue, and a community issue that ultimately touches us all in some way or form. Twenty years later, I continue to represent injured workers and families whose lives are forever shattered due to a workplace injury. Motley Rice has been dedicated to being part of the solution toward worker safety, whether related to toxic exposures such as chemical flavoring-related lung diseases, unsafe work environments and products that result in catastrophic injury or death, or our continued work with patients who suffer from asbestos-related diseases and their families in pushing for a ban.

I speak on behalf of my colleagues at Motley Rice when I say that we are proud to support and collaborate with National COSH and all worker advocates throughout the country in their ongoing quest to save lives. The organization’s mission is in line with our own at Motley Rice as we seek to further Causes, Not Just Cases®.

For more information on National COSH and the valuable work the organization is doing throughout the country, visit its website:

COSH’S network consists of numerous local chapters nationwide. For a map of local COSH groups, and more information on how to join or create a group in your area, visit here.

Lastly, see a list of Workers’ Memorial Week events.

I sincerely hope that you will join me in taking a stand for workers nationwide. Every day they give their all, and for that they deserve the best we have to offer.