Remember the Dead — Fight for the Living: Today is International Worker’s Memorial Day

April 28, 2014  |  Mesothelioma

Today is International Worker’s Memorial, a day with a touching motive: To remember the dead — fight for the living. The day, and its slogan, could not be any more necessary, either.

Here’s why.

Worldwide, and right here in America, we are in a serious mess so far as it comes to protecting all of our workers. We have improved the safety and efficacy of our heavy machinery and worldwide technology has improved, dramatically reducing the risk for accidents. We have reduced our labor hours in the United States and much of the world, and put stricter limits on age requirements and job training. But there’s one point of injury that has seen little if any improvement. That is exposure to dangerous toxins and chemicals while on the job. And what that means is many more workers may be exposed too, as deadly toxins and chemicals are increasingly present in the products we use to “get the job done.”

In fact, occupational diseases caused by exposure to dangerous toxics and chemicals is the number one cause of work-related deaths in the world. Yet, surprisingly, most of the exposure risks for occupational cancers and other diseases are preventable.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), asbestos alone is responsible for more than 107,000 deaths each year from asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos in the workplace.

WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified 107 mixtures, agents and other exposure situations as carcinogenic to humans. All forms of asbestos are included in this list, along with a number of other dangerous agents sometimes — if not often — found in the workplace. These include cadmium, silica, ionizing radiation such as radon, ultraviolet radiation such as that found in tanning devices and benzene.

The cost of these injuries is not just felt by the injured and their loved ones, either. In fact, the economic (to say nothing of the emotional and physical) cost of workplace illnesses is soaring into the hundreds of billions of dollars-level in this country. Hundreds of billions of dollars, for diseases, like mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, that are preventable.

Better and more enforced regulations are part of the change that needs to happen to protect our country’s workers. And we also need to start banning the toxins and chemicals and other dangerous agents, like asbestos, that are killing workers and their families en mass, despite the fact that alternatives exist to replace the asbestos, for instance, used in construction and plumbing to automobiles and insulation in ships.

Experts from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health have gone so far as to say that “the national investment in addressing occupational illness and injuries is far less than for many other diseases with lower economic burden even though occupational illnesses and injuries are eminently preventable.”

But why? And why on our own front door, so to speak?

Maybe we need to start rethinking the way we approach our work.

After all, nothing can be more American than a hard day’s work, we all know that.

But that saying we use to get through the long day, that whatever doesnt kill you makes you stronger? Well, it’s time to fess up: Our workers are being killed by the factories, construction sites and automotive jobs they count on to pay the bills and feed the family. And more often than not, that risk of exposure is coming from asbestos. Something that we could ban today.

However, even the workers with “Safe” jobs are put in harms way, too.

Janitors, housekeepers, landscaping or other maintenance occupations may come into contact with deadly cleaning solvents or pesticides. Hairdressers, hairstylists, cosmetologists, manicurists and pedicurists may come into contact with beauty products laced with formaldehyde or other dangerous chemicals (really). Even retail salespersons or cashiers may be put at risk for cancer and hormone disruption from handling sales receipts all day, as many receipts may have Bisphenol A (BPA) on them, the same chemical that made many of us rethink our habit of drinking water from plastic water bottles.

This International Workers Memorial Day, let’s follow suit. Let’s remember the dead and let’s fight for the living.

Let’s create a change in the way corporations and managers protect — or fail to protect — their employees and contract laborers.

We can do that by speaking up when we’ve been injured — it won’t mean we are any less American. It just means we won’t stand for these unnecessary deaths any longer. Even when it pays the bills.

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