Statement on Workers Memorial Day from Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland


On April 28, 2018, our nation will mark Workers' Memorial Day.  This is the day we remember those working men and women who died on the job.  On behalf of our entire CSB family, I join the families of our lost workers in remembering your loved ones and joining you in your efforts to honor your family members by striving to make our workplaces safer.  

Throughout our twenty-year history of driving chemical safety change to protect people and the environment, we meet workers across many industries and hear about their efforts to promote safety in their workplaces.  Many of them are directly affected by a tragic accident in their workplaces or communities.  Other workers are implementing lessons learned from an accident so that they do not have to witness a similar tragedy in the future.

Throughout our investigations, we’ve seen a reoccurring theme that making workplaces safer is often the result of the positive impact of worker participation.  As experts in the potential hazards of the work they perform, workers are a vital knowledge resource and have much to gain from a successful safety program and everything to lose if the program fails.  Therefore, they are motivated to make the safety program successful.

Every effective worker participation program also has worker protections in place. Eight years ago, the U.S. experienced one of the worst offshore drilling disasters with a well blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.  Eleven workers were killed and seventeen were seriously injured.  There was extensive environmental damage to the Gulf Coast.  It was one of the most extensive investigations in CSB’s 20-year history.  One of the resulting recommendations from our investigation called on the Department of the Interior to implement worker participation/protection measures, such as the authority to stop work when hazardous conditions exist and whistleblower protection, in offshore drilling operations (CSB Recommendation No.  2010-10-I-OS-R15).  Specifically, we urged that these safety activities include effective processes for workers to identify safety hazards without the risk of retaliatory actions.  Workplaces – like an offshore drilling rig – should be free from fear and retaliation when workers raise safety concerns.  Management and the workforce should encourage and engage in safety discussions in all work places.

It is unfortunate that eight years later, we have not seen any action to implement our recommendations.  That’s why the CSB encouraged Congress to enact legislation to promote greater collaboration by the appropriate Federal regulatory agencies to address this significant safety gap.   Strong worker participation and whistleblower protections, coupled with stop work authority and well-implemented safety management systems, are essential elements to promote safe workplaces and to keep the nation safe from chemical disasters. 

Safety is a shared responsibility.  Greater collaboration between workers, management, industry and government, can create safe and efficient workplaces.  On this Workers’ Memorial Day, let’s take time to “Remember the dead [and] Fight for the living,” by acknowledging the workers who participate in initiatives to promote a safe work environment for themselves and for their communities.

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