Workplace deaths are convenient for no one

I don’t believe that International Workers Memorial Day (IWMD) or the World Day for Safety and Health at Work should be held on any day other than April 28 each year. I don’t think Christmas should be moved or ANZAC Day. All these days are of significant cultural importance in Australia, and each of these dates has been set for the last few decades in the case of IWMD and ANZAC Day, and centuries for Christmas. Commemorating International Workers’ Memorial Day on a different day places logistical reasons and convenience above the significance of the day and the message it gives to the community.

Workplace deaths are convenient for no one. They destroy the lives of the workers and severely corrupt the lives and expectations of those who knew the deceased. They are often sudden and unexpected. Sometimes, they are slow, painful, and tragic but always sorrowful. Sometimes, they are at the hands of others. Sometimes at the hands of the worker. The dates of each of these workers’ deaths are forever remembered by families and colleagues.

International and local labour organisations believe that these events are of cultural significance and deserve to be commemorated collectively. The number of people who attend these commemorative services is not important. One is enough for a commemoration; hundreds can be powerful, but change rarely results from these, which are effectively personal reflections.

It is not necessary to coordinate a ceremony with a meeting of Health and Safety Representatives, for instance. It is not necessary to schedule the time of the event to match that of the local Industrial Relations or Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Minister. The argument that the ceremony is necessary on a weekday so that workers in the cities can attend is almost insulting. IF the health and safety of workers is important, people will attend the ceremony held on the “gazetted” international day of mourning. IF OHS is important. IF the loss of a worker’s life is important. IF those who are identified as leaders in OHS are going to live up to their commitments and their belief in the sanctity of human life, as is often restated at these events, they should attend each memorial on April 28 each year.

To move a commemoration to another day, for whatever reason, tells people that remembering those workers who have died is a lesser priority, even though OHS will be stated at these events to be of the highest priority for workers and employers. This situation supports the often unfairness of managing OHS so far as is reasonably practicable. How would it look? How would the widows, widowers and children feel if International Workers Memorial Day was held on April 28 every year only so far as is reasonably practicable?

Any death that is found by the Courts to have resulted from reasonably practicable OHS decisions breaks the hearts of those left behind. And some of us seem to feel it is okay to move an internationally-recognised event to another day for a raft of reasons of convenience.

I do not support OHS commemorations on days other than those scheduled annually and globally. To do so sends the wrong message at a time when the importance of good OHS management is at its most prominent, topical, significant and influential.

Kevin Jones

Categories communication, community, culture, design, grief, Leadership, OHS, politics, safety, Uncategorized

9 thoughts on “Workplace deaths are convenient for no one”

  1. Hello Kevin and company, with all due respect, please understand it takes workers to set up and arrange these events, make bookings, coordinate equipment, arrange media, arrange wreaths, from people like me who have caring and family responsibilities. Weekends are also recognised as a break for some workers, and rightly so. If arranging the IWMD event to facilitate the workers actually arranging these events, and to facilitate more people to attend (which is actually important) including those who need to be influenced in WHS matters, and to help with the media coverage/cycle, I don’t see any offense whatsoever with such a reasonable adjustment to an adjacent weekday date to commemorate the date? If we are thinking about the safety of workers over several days, not just one, how is that a problem? I personally dont feel enough people know about “28 April” as international workers memorial day (except in our circles) – hence having “international workers memorial day” on a date that better promotes the spirit and intention of the day, seems perfectly appropriate to me.

    1. Julia, thnaks for your perspective.
      I am not sure that your point about the “media coverage cycle” holds up, at least in relation to the mainstream media. I hve been toild that only Channel 7 in Victoria covered the April 29 ceremony in Melbourne. None of the local, state or federasl newspapers mentioned it as far as my my media subscriptions allow. Victoria’s Herald-Sun mentioned the day in passing on Sunday as a footnote to a story about sunscreen!!, supported by a commercial OHS document provider.
      International Memorial Day has always struggled for media coverage due to its proximity to ANZAC Day. The current protests about domestic murders further reduced the media’s interst in a ceremony that changes very little from year to year. It continues to hold a lot of significance for many of us who have attended these events for decades and, in Melbourne, was attended by many influential policy makers, but this is communicating to the usual crowd and is doing little to raise the awareness of work-related deaths in the broader community, or perhaps most importantly to the employers.
      I know what is involved with organising such events and I do not think I criticised those committed (usually) volunteers.

      1. Thanks for your reply and acknowledgement of the time and effort that goes into organising these efforts – and given such, we of course want there to be good numbers at our events. Why would we organise an event knowing few would attend? As far as i know, people coming to our Memorial Day events don’t seem to mind if the service is moved to a weekday, if Memorial Day falls on a weekend. I’ve never had anyone complain. I don’t think they feel that we are commemorating their loved ones any less **or that we care less**; they know we are there for them and have been, ever since their love one died. The fifth paragraph of your blog is respectfully, just not on point, and i have taken offense.
        A memorial day service is sometimes the only real public recognition families get for the injustice of a workplace fatality. I don’t speak for the whole union movement that organises these events, so i don’t know what media strategies we have or not have for these events. Media exposure is probably a bonus. At any rate, our campaigning on the issues to prevent workplace fatalities simply can’t be put down the success and media uptake of one event on one day of the year – there is much being done that isn’t necessarily broadcast and i’m proud to be part of a team that thinks about worker safety in all that we do, on many levels. I think you can see yourself that some things are best suited to the weekdays; indeed your blog post on this topic came out the Monday 29th morning – and rightly so, as more people would read it! Which is what we can all agree on – exposure and awareness leading to the ulimate goal – prevention. Thank you.

        1. Sorry you took offence Julia.
          And you are right, most of my blog posts appear on weekdays because my articles relate to work and most people read my articles on the way to work, at work or have their empoyers take out corproate subscriptions. I wish I did not have to spend my non-employment time writing the articles. One day, I may be able to make a living from writing.
          I appreciate your effort in commenting. I hope we agree of the big things related to weork.

  2. I do not follow main stream media all that much, however I do swing between ABC Sydney and Radio National. I was unaware that there were calls for the date to be changed.
    Whilst I now own my own company, I started my working career as an apprentice electrician in a NSW underground coal mine 35 years ago. I am a true believer in the union movement, especially in the NSW and QLD coal industry. It has been the strength of the Union that has made our mines safer. I use 28 April as a day of reflection, as much as I use ANZAC day as a day of reflection.
    Kevin, I hope you sent the above to every news media editor across Australia, as everyone needs to understand that the date is just as important and as the day itself. If it wasn’t, why does 26 January cause much angst……..

    1. Jason, the date is not being moved. My article was bout organistions who commemorate the day on days OTHER than April 28. Sorry if Iw asn’t clear enough.

  3. Totally agree!

    The other thing I find strange is why the main news networks don’t cover the event in their news bulletins

    1. Mike, this year in particular in Australia, this Memorial Day has been crowded out by days of large protests over domestic violence and the murder of women. Numbers = media attention and worker’s memorials are never going to match this unless a speaker makes an extremely controversial statement or there is a catastrophe at an event or a scandal. That is the nature of the media.

      However, what I look for each year is any pledge to action. I know the idea is to remember the dead but the unions remind us that this remembrance should also be a (re-)motivation for action. It rarely is.

      1. The MSM media always amazes me…..”what is important” seems relative to what narrative they are wanting to show/print.
        Yes you are right about pledge to action…today will be interesting to see what is said and what is pledged by leaders.

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