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Workers Memorial Day honors those killed and injured on the job

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

April 28 was International Workers Memorial Day, the day that honors those killed or injured on the job in the past year.

Labor advocates in Detroit and cities worldwide held vigils to remember those workers Monday.

The annual event also marks the day that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was founded in 1970.

That federal agency enforces workplace safety rules in the U.S., and tracks employment-related injuries and fatalities.

More than 4,500 Americans died in workplace accidents in 2012 – about 12 people every day. That’s a significant decline from the average of 38 deaths per day when OSHA was founded.

“We estimate that OSHA has saved more than 500,000 lives over the past 44 years,” says John Dick, chair of the southeast Michigan chapter of Jobs with Justice, a union-backed worker advocacy group.

But Dick and other labor advocates warn of persistent efforts to roll back those worker protections.

They say that’s particularly the case in Michigan, where 137 people died on the job in 2012.

“(Michigan’s) regulations have traditionally been higher than the federal standards,” Dick says. “But in recent years, there have been cutbacks on the MIOSHA regulations, and that’s one of our big concerns.”

Some Republicans and business groups call many OSHA rules inefficient, saying they place an undue burden on small businesses in particular. And they say OSHA should focus on enforcing existing regulations, rather than adding new ones.

But worker advocates contend that many loopholes exist in current laws, and that employees continue to be vulnerable to hazards like toxic chemicals, combustible dust, and workplace violence.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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