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Safety Perspectives: Workers' Memorial Day

Grainger Editorial Staff

On April 28, Remember Fallen Workers—and Fall Protection

This Workers’ Memorial Day, on Sunday, April 28, will be the thirtieth anniversary of the commemoration of worker fatalities in the United States.

When the first Workers’ Memorial Day was observed here in 1989, the idea was not only to honor fallen workers, but also to promote safer workplaces for everyone: to “pray for the dead and fight for the living.” That goal—those two goals—can be useful to think about how to mark Workers’ Memorial Day this year.

Fighting for the Living

Fighting for the living is all about striving toward the goal of zero fatalities and injuries. Looking at the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (2017), you can see that there’s still plenty of fighting to do. While we may never achieve the ultimate goal, we should at least hope to make continuous progress toward it. That’s why it’s so alarming to see any trend that goes the opposite way.

While the total number of fatal work injuries reported in the most recent Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries was down slightly, fatal falls were at their highest level in the 26-year history of the survey, accounting for 17 percent of worker deaths. That’s definitely moving in the wrong direction.

Year in and year out, inadequate fall protection is the leading violation cited by OSHA, and this is a great demonstration of why it’s such a high priority for enforcement.

This year, use Workers’ Memorial Day as a reminder to “fight for the living” by protecting against the dangers of working at elevated heights. Let’s get this trend moving back in the right direction.

For more on working safely at elevated heights, see

Honoring the Dead and Injured

Mourning and commemoration are important parts of Workers’ Memorial Day. As a way of honoring the men and women who died, were injured or suffered from exposures to hazards at work, consider:

  • Lowering flags to half-mast
  • Planning a memorial service, candlelight vigil or moment of silence

For more inspiration on organizing an event, take a look at the worldwide event map and list maintained by AFL-CIO.

Workers Memorial Day Fast Facts

  • Workers’ Memorial Day was first observed in the US in 1989. It was first observed in Canada in 1984.
  • The date of Workers’ Memorial Day, April 28, is the same day the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opened its doors in 1971.
  • Workers’ Memorial Day is promoted in the US by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to honor workers who were injured and killed at work and to promote the importance of safe jobs.
  • In 1989, there were 100 rallies, memorial services, vigils and other activities to mark Workers’ Memorial Day in the US. These events were held in 44 states.


Janet Zandy. Hands: Physical Labor, Class, and Cultural Work. 2004.

Timothy Minchin. Labor Under Fire. 2017

Canadian Public Health Association 

Bureau of Labor Statistics press release 

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.


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