The USF SafetyFlorida Consultation Program and USF OSHA Training Institute Education Center honored the lives of fallen workers during the Workers’ Memorial Day Commemoration Service, April 28, at the City of Temple Terrace, Council Chambers.
“We can do more about workplace deaths,” said Charlene Sitterly, USF SafetyFlorida program director. “Recommit yourself and your company to holding workplace safety as a core value.”
Each year 5,000 workers will become injured, ill or killed on the job from hazardous and unsafe practices, according to USF SafetyFlorida.
President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, which went into effect on April 28, 1971. Community workers and community government leaders have gathered ever since that day to commemorate the lives of workers injured or killed on the job.
USF SafetyFlorida is the state’s official small business safety and health consultation program funded by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation. The not-for-profit program is operated out of the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health and provides free and confidential workplace safety consultations to private sector businesses.
The service aimed to also raise awareness of the issues affecting America’s workforce and advocate for safer workplaces, bringing together occupational safety experts from across the state.
For Tanner Holloman, director for the Division of Workers’ Compensation in Florida, the service allowed him to share how he personally has seen unsafe working environments impact families.
“I can’t think of any other call that I may receive that is more disheartening than talking to a family member about a death in the workplace,” said Holloman. “To see an employer who has not taken the opportunity, knowingly, to protect his employees is just unconscionable.”
William Tomlin, safety and health consultant for USF SafetyFlorida, shared how he personally lost a relative.
His grandfather, whom he described as 10-feet-tall with a booming voice and someone who could fix anything, worked as a “mud man” with a construction company in Oklahoma City.
Toward the end of his grandfather’s life, he could barely walk across the room without losing his breath.
His grandfather succumbed to silicosis, a lung fibrosis caused by inhalation of dust containing silica, as a result of the mud he worked with in his employment.
“He died for his job,” Tomlin said. “This is not an abstract thing to me, I know what it means to die to make a living.”
Managers, supervisors, and workers are all involved in safety, Tomlin said, sharing what organizations can do to ensure safer environments and how to train employees to recognize and avoid hazards.
“Employers have to do the right thing and unfortunately, that does not always happen,” said Les Grove, office director of the Tampa area OSHA.
According to Grove, in 2015 OSHA investigated a total of 75 deaths in Florida. That number is already up to 55 deaths for the new OSHA fiscal year, with more than five months left to go.
“Something went off the rails,” Grove said.
Many of the deaths involved fatalities of workers being run over at the work zone, he said.
“People say ‘it was an accident,’” Grove said. “It’s not an accident, it’s preventable, it was an incident and if people had done what they should have done that particular fatality would not have happened.”
The event concluded with a reading of the official proclamation issued by the mayor of the City of Temple Terrace, followed by a prayer and candlelight vigil.
“Concerned Americans are determined to prevent these tragedies, all employers including local governments are urged to dedicate their efforts to improve workplace safety and seeking stronger health standard enforcement and to be treating workers with dignity, as well pursue constant improvements to worker safety,” Charles Stephenson, city manager of Temple Terrace, said as he read the official proclamation.
The proclamation urges residents of Temple Terrace to observe April 28 as Workers’ Memorial Day and remember fallen workers.
Employers interested in receiving a free and confidential consultation from the USF SafetyFlorida Consultation Program may call toll-free, 1-866-273-1105, or visit www.usfsafetyflorida.com.
Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health