Monday, June 17, 2024

OPINION: Workers Memorial Day recognized in Cd'A

by EVAN KOCH/More Perfect Union
| May 3, 2023 1:00 AM

Kootenai County citizens gathered in City Park last Thursday to remember the women and men who died at work during the previous 12 months. This important day, April 28 of each year, is Workers Memorial Day, a holiday set aside to honor those whose lives are lost on the job.

In Coeur d’Alene, a handsome masonry structure stands in City Park between the Memorial Field baseball stadium and the Human Rights Education Institute. Inscribed on its stones and blocks you can find the names of those who lost their lives in work-related injuries, along with the individuals and organizations that funded construction and maintenance of the memorial. The lists are updated annually. This year, the names of 10 loved and lost women and men were added.

Just before sunset on Thursday evening, a group of about 50 people including electricians, iron workers, nurses, teachers, firefighters and others joined a few government officials in front of the Worker’s Memorial to mark the day. Brad Cedarblom who is the Chair for the North Idaho Central Labor Council called the group to order.

Mr. Cedarblom began the ceremony with the Pledge of Allegiance. A visiting pastor offered a brief prayer. Then Mr. Cedarblom presented a short history of the memorial.

Workers Memorial Day was instituted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in 1970. The intent was two-fold: to annually dignify workers who died while on the job, and to draw attention to the social and economic impact of work-related injuries and deaths.

Deaths on the job are more prevalent than you might imagine. In 2021, there were 3.6 worker deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.

But safety is often overlooked by both workers and managers. Managers stress efficiency rather than safety. And workers may fear repercussions if they insist on adhering to all safety standards.

As we all reflected on these difficult realities Thursday night, Mr. Cedarblom stressed the seriousness with which we all should consider workplace safety, and he dwelled on the dignity of workers.

Mr. Cedarblom then paused the ceremony while a bagpiper, standing well to the east of the group, played a beautiful rendition of "Amazing Grace."

Mr. Cedarblom then named each of the 10 deceased workers, and the date and cause of their deaths. After each name was read, a small bell was tolled signifying the end of one life lived.

The attendees then turned once again to the east where a horn player from the U.S. Air Force closed the ceremony with an equally beautiful rendition of "Taps."

Workers die from all sorts of hazards. Causes include agricultural safety and asbestos exposure, youthful inexperience, and even zika virus.

When it comes to safety for all workers, we need to speak with one voice. That’s how we build a more perfect union.

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Evan Koch is chairman of the Kootenai County Democrats.

This has been updated to reflect a correction.