Workers who died on the job honored as COVID-19 ravages workplaces

By: - April 29, 2020 1:57 pm

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Thousands of workers who have died, suffered from job-related traumatic injuries or fallen ill while on the job were honored Tuesday on Workers Memorial Day.

Unions fought for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act 50 years ago, but worker safety remains a concern. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that more than 5,000 workers died across the country due to job-related injuries like overexertion, falls and transportation incidents in 2018, and that 95,000 workers died due occupational diseases, including heart disease and cancer that year, as well.

In Michigan, the National Safety Council said 155 workers died in 2018, and transportation incidents accounted for 50 of those deaths.

The BLS and NSC haven’t released illness or injury data for 2019 yet, but the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) said 35 people died of work-related injuries last year.

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Right now, the lives and health of workers across the country and in Michigan are being impacted by COVID-19.

Johns Hopkins University reports that more than 58,000 have died of COVID-19 in the United States, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reports that 3,567 have died in Michigan as of 3 p.m. Tuesday.

University of Michigan economists released a scheduled report through the Research Seminar of Quantitative Economics (RSQE) estimating that 40 to 50% of Michigan’s workforce is considered essential, which includes health care and grocery store workers.

Health care workers in Michigan and all over the country are fighting COVID-19, sometimes without proper personal protective equipment (PPE) due to shortages, putting them at risk of catching COVID-19.

Workers in various industries have passed away due to COVID-19, including a staff member at Ambassador Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Detroit, grocery store workers and auto workers

In order to protect more workers, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order last week requiring all businesses to provide their employees with non-medical grade face coverings if they work with the public, but some businesses are struggling to do so.

“I know many business owners around the state are working hard to reopen and comply with the Governor’s Executive Order. Securing appropriate face coverings by the Monday deadline, though, appears to be a difficult task for some businesses given limited supplies,” said Nessel.

Nessel urged employees who work in public settings like restaurants and grocery stores to use their own face coverings to protect themselves until their employers can provide them in order to stay safe at work.

Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, also highlighted the importance of keeping workers safe during the pandemic.

“Since the start of this crisis, labor unions have been working to make sure that we implement strong guidelines so that we’re keeping people safe at work during this crisis and in the future, and not endangering families when they return home.”

Bieber added that every American has the right to a safe and healthy workplace, and that workers deserve to know that they’re going to make it home at the end of the day.

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Madeline Ciak
Madeline Ciak

Madeline Ciak is a former Michigan Advance reporter. She’s a University of Michigan-Flint graduate and previously worked as a digital media manager at NBC25/FOX66 in Flint and a weekend producer at ABC12.