Fallen Washington state workers remembered

Most died unknown to the general public, not lauded in the media as heroes.

They died doing what people all across Washington state and the nation do every day – their jobs.

Those workers who died in Washington state last year as a result of job-related injuries and illness were commemorated at the Department of Labor and Industries’ 2002 Worker Memorial Day, held yesterday afternoon at L&I headquarters in Tumwater.

In addition to remembering fallen workers, Worker Memorial Day focuses attention on the anniversary of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1970.

Washington state’s Worker Memorial Day took place as part of a national observance that included thousands of ceremonies across America.

There were also similar commemorations in 70 nations around the world.

Friends, family and coworkers packed the building’’s auditorium for the ceremony remembering the 123 workers who died in the state in 2001.

Following the posting of the colors by the Washington State Patrol Honor Guard, various speakers addressed those in attendance, offering condolences and stressing a continued emphasis on workplace safety.

““Today we honor the men and women who failed to return home after work last year,”” said Gary Moore, director of the Department of Labor and Industries.

He went on to provide some sobering statistics regarding those workers killed on the job last year: Those who died ranged in age from 18 to 80; men represented 90 percent of the fatalities; one-third died in motor vehicle accidents; about one-third of the total deaths occurred in Pierce and King counties; six deaths were attributed to workplace violence; and at least 41 dependent children were left behind by those who died.

The number of workers killed last year was up from the previous year. In the year 2000, 80 workers in the state were killed on the job, Moore said.

Rick Bender, president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, provided some more thought-provoking national statistics.

“Estimates are that since the 1970s, regulations and inspections via OSHA have saved 220,000-plus lives,” he said.

He continued: On an average day, 154 workers across the nation lose their lives and 16,000 are injured.

“That means there is an on-the-job death or injury in this country every 5 seconds,” Bender said. “We must do more. May we learn from our losses. “Our promise to you is we will never give up the fight for healthier, safer workplaces.””

Toward that end, Dave Kaplan, executive director of the Washington Self-Insurers Association, said employers and workers must work together for safety. “Everyone must be more vigilant about safety, he said, and everyone must be educated on the subject.”

““Prevention is the key,”” said Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business, noting that most workplace accidents are preventable.

He cited the case of a 35-year-old worker with Turner Construction Co. who was working on top of a 160-foot scaffolding as part of the new Seattle Seahawks stadium on Feb. 28, 2001 when the Nisqually earthquake struck. The force of the quake knocked the worker off of the scaffolding, but because that worker was properly connected to the scaffolding as required by safety guidelines, he didn’t fall to his death.

In fact, Brunell said, over 600 workers were successfully evacuated from the site without a single injury.

“Noting it was a solemn day for the Department of Labor and Industries,” Gov. Gary Locke said. “Workplace safety is very important to me.”” He recalled his days as King County Executive and the anguish he felt when two workers were killed in the Kingdome by falling tiles during the last decade. ““In 2001 the simple act of going to work seemed dangerous,”” Locke said, a reference to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans.

He praised the “ordinary people” who make America great, citing the example of the fire and police departments in New York City following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

““The world may not know their names, but they are the people who provided our food, our homes and our safety,”” Locke said of Washington state workers.

After their speeches, the various speakers took turns reading all 123 names, with members of the Washington State Council of Firefighters from Tumwater Local 2409 ringing a bell after the reading of each individual name.

The ceremony concluded with a member of the Washington State Patrol Honor Guard playing “Amazing Grace.”

Gov. Gary Locke talks with people following the 2002 Workers Memorial Day at Labor and Industries headquarters in Tumwater. Locke was one of several speakers at the event commemorating workers who died in Washington state in 2001 as a result of job-related injuries and illness. (Photo by Brett Davis)