On the evening of 28 April 2016, (Australian time), Professor Mike Behm of North Carolina, Ciaran McAleenan in Ireland and others coordinated an online discussion about the importance of International Workers Memorial Day (IWMD). Dr Gerry Ayers was scheduled to participate but was beaten by technical problems. However he shared his thoughts about the memorial and has allowed SafetyAtWorkBlog to reproduce his thoughts. These are included below:
“Wouldn’t it be good if we never had to have an IWMD! In 2016, we live in an age often referred to as the age of technology, the digital revolution, the information/travel age, the modern smart world and yet – in 2016…we still have people killed at work and exposed (unprotected) to hideous and cancerous materials and chemicals (e.g. asbestos). Perhaps we’re not as smart as we think we are!
In our society today, we often hear politicians talk about/rave about their policies for this smart new age and the increased “productivity” world which we live in. Seldom, if ever, do we hear politicians talk about workplace health and safety or indeed the prevention of workplace fatalities – especially in political campaigns. It is “conveniently” forgotten, swept aside, glossed over – workers and their families remain the silent victims…
I see April 28th – IWMD, as the day that highlights and gives workers and their families the opportunity to raise their voice, to express their concerns. But I also see it as a time for all of us to re-focus, to reflect, to remember and to realise that we still have a huge way to go to protect those most vulnerable and exposed to workplace fatalities – that is – workers and their families.
For every workplace fatality – a family is left in ruin. Spouses are left behind; children left without a parent – a parent who will never be able to share and open up birthday presents, Christmas presents, read a bedtime story, stroke a child’s head when they’re sick and most vulnerable, a child left to never know the security of that parent’s hug when scared, to share and celebrate the triumphs of the child’s life; brothers and sisters left without a sibling, parents left grieving without a son or daughter. And we should never forget that sometimes, it is not only workers who die from workplace incidents, but sometimes members of the public, as happened back in Melbourne, in 2013, when a brother and sister (only 18 & 19 years old) and a 33 y.o French women were killed when, while innocently walking along the pavement, a large brick wall on a construction site collapsed onto the street- killing them.
Today – April 28th, in Australia, marked the 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur gun massacre – a terrible, tragic and shocking event in which 35 people lost their lives. It had, and it deserved to have huge media coverage and attention. Socially, it remains a totally unacceptable and tragic event.
But in my industry – construction, the latest official government figures show that on average, in Australia, 36 construction workers are killed on the job every year. 156 construction workers are injured every day. And a staggering 12% of those injured workers will never, ever return to work again. Our own IWMD service here in Victoria had no media coverage at all today. It is perhaps arguable, but it is almost become “socially accepted” that workers will ‘sometimes’ die on the job – especially in some occupations such as construction.
We need to make it “unacceptable” to kill workers at work. Our role is to help make it “socially unacceptable” that workers are still killed, on the job, in 2016. That is what makes IWMD so important.”