Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Workers Memorial Day


Chances are, you know someone represented by a union. 

They work in skilled trades, industry, and numerous public sectors. Their job titles are many and frankly, our nation would grind to a halt without them. Another truth:  jobs are often dangerous.

Workers Memorial Day is April 28th.

I learned about International Workers Memorial Day during my years as a technical writer. [This was B.E.: before end-of-life work] Working with a creative and dedicated production team, I scripted several videos for commemorations conducted by the health and safety divisions of the United Auto Workers (UAW) of Ford Motor Company.
Conducting on-camera interviews with employees (and their families), I gained a new understanding of the lightening fast moments when serious accidents change--or end lives. Operating machinery, making repairs, working at heights, and even being in the wrong place at the wrong time of a busy factory can lead to devastation.

Life changing moments may be cumulative. 

The use of chemicals is common in thousands of occupations; they come in friendly spray cans, single-use applicators, and drums. Protective gear--from gloves to respirators, may or may not be offered or used, and exposure to hazardous materials and infectious agents impacts health.

For millions, a hard day's work is just that.

Injurious repetitive processes can occur almost anywhere. Long hours of keying in data, holding high vibration tools, heavy lifting, and even fixed position activities may result in "cumulative trauma disorders." When ergonomic or mechanical aids are not implemented or sufficient, many retirees goes home with chronic pain instead of a gold watch.

With a motto:  MOURN FOR THE DEAD, FIGHT FOR THE LIVING, unions continually address training, vigilance, and being your brother's keeper. It is not a guarantee. The annual observance, now global, originated with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, in 1984.  International Workers Memorial Day, April 28th, provides a forum to pause and remember men and women who lost their lives or sustained disabling injuries or illnesses on the job. Because prevention is the goal, the United Nations marks a World Day for Safety and Health at Work on this day, too.

Hazards affect everyone.

Leo W. Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers (USW), reminds us that "the peril of refineries spills into communities."  

"In the first six weeks of this year, explosions occurred at three refineries, closing streets, raining eye-irritating white ash on neighborhoods and forcing residents to shelter indoors for hours."

So, you don't have to clock into work to hope it's a safe day; safety should be everybody's business. The March 23rd memorial gathering marked the 10th anniversary of an explosion in Texas City that killed 15 workers and injured more than 170--including townspeople. In a candlelight ceremony, small white crosses-each inscribed with a name, were erected near the refinery. Marathon Petroleum Corp. "inherited" the legacy of the accident from BP, but is resisting solutions identified by the USW.  Workers' Memorial Day has been called the voice of dead workers. Growing up, we are told to learn from our mistakes; shouldn't the same principle apply in business?

Everyone's work has value.

The Condolence Coach suggests we remember how every contribution of labor makes our world better. I particularly like the UAW logo shown above because of its interconnected human wheel design. In any condolence note, consider an appreciative comment about the person's work. Your goal, always, is to be supportive, affirming, and sometimes, helpful without interference or advice.

If a death was due to an occupational injury or accident, consider these expressions in your note:

  •  "Tom didn't put down his tools when a shift ended. He has helped me at home..."
  • "When I think of what Janine faced each day, words like strong, brave, and big-hearted come to my mind..."
  • "Mary, you've got enough 'experts' working on Mike's case, but remember that I'm here to listen and take the kids to the pool."
  • "I can't make the fact of Ty's death hurt any less, but I can remind you that every day, he left home feeling loved."
  • "Count on me to be at the next rally, Sue Ellen."
  • My favorite memory of Cleo was how much fun she had on 'Donut Day'...
Remember, if a child or teen has lost a parent, a condolence gift may be useful as they process feelings:

Thank you for caring!

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