The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has observed Worker Memorial Day since 1990 and, in 1993, began conducting a special ceremony to mark the day.
Washington State’s Worker Memorial Day service was canceled this year due to the Coronavirus outbreak. It is a solemn ceremony where the names of workers in Washington that lost their lives are shared with a bell tolled for each life lost. It is an annual tradition of importance. I wish it could have been arranged as a remote event.
You can read the history of Worker Memorial Day in Washington state, including information about the bell created by artist Tom Torrens, which has been used in the ceremony since 2007, here. Past events are also available for viewing. Below is the 2019 event.
The notice of cancellation from the Department of Labor and Industries (DLI) is below:
Remembering workers who sacrificed their lives
DLI encourages moment of silence for lost workers and those on the front lines
Now more than ever, the safety and health of workers is top of mind here and around the world. The week of April 28 is traditionally when Worker Memorial Day is commemorated in Washington state.
This year’s in-person events at the Department of Labor and Industries and around the state have been cancelled because of the pandemic and the need for social distancing, but those lost to workplace injuries and illness must not be forgotten.
DLI honors and remembers each worker who died in connection with their job in 2019, and shares heartfelt condolences with their family and friends.
Fifty-five workers died in 2019 as a result of work-related incidents, and 43 passed away last year after long battles with occupational illnesses. The names of all 98 workers honored by DLI this year are available on DLI’s website.
“Worker Memorial Day is about remembering those we have lost, and the unbearable cost to families when people die in connection with their jobs. It’s also a time for all of us to recommit to doing everything possible at work to keep ourselves and our coworkers safe from harm. There is always more to do,” said DLI Director Joel Sacks.
“We had no choice but to cancel this year’s ceremony,” Sacks added, “but it doesn’t diminish the importance of remembering fallen workers and continuing our efforts to reduce to zero the number of people who die in connection with their job.”
Motor vehicle crashes, workplace violence and occupational illness
Motor vehicle crashes continued to be a serious hazard for Washington workers, claiming 24 lives in 2019. There were fewer fatalities from falls in 2019, but sadly, workplace violence claimed 13 lives. Nearly half of workplace fatalities were associated with occupational illnesses such as cancer and mesothelioma.
These workers were men and women ranging in age from 17 to 94. They were store owners, millwrights, crane workers, medical technicians, retail clerks, truck drivers, and much more. They were moms, dads, brothers, sisters and cherished friends who meant much more than their occupations to their families and communities.
DLI encourages moment of silence for fallen workers and those on the job
“I encourage everyone to take a moment of silence sometime this week to remember the workers who were lost in 2019, and in support of all of the workers on the front lines of the pandemic providing much needed health care, goods and services during this challenging time,” Sacks said.
Adding to the sadness of each life lost at work is the knowledge that every one of these incidents was preventable. Worker Memorial Day stands as a reminder that these were human lives lost, and that the work to prevent future workplace deaths is vital.