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International Workers' Memorial Day - 28th April 2021 - a brief history

Updated: Apr 14



Workers' Memorial Day, also known as International Workers' Memorial Day or International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured, takes place annually around the world on April 28, an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured, or made unwell by their work.


Workers' Memorial Day is an opportunity to highlight the preventable nature of most workplace incidents and ill health and to promote campaigns and union organisations in the fight for improvements in workplace safety. The slogan for the day is Remember the dead – Fight for the living.


Although April 28 is used as the focal point for remembrance and a day of international solidarity, campaigning and other related activities continue throughout the year right around the world.


Origins

Workers' Memorial Day ribbon


In 1989, the AFL-CIO declared April 28 "Workers' Memorial Day" to honour the hundreds of thousands of working people killed and injured on the job every year. April 28 is the anniversary of the date the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 went into effect, and when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was formed (April 28, 1971).


International recognition


For years Workers' Memorial Day events have been organised in North America, and then worldwide. Since 1989, trade unions in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa have organised events on April 28. The late Hazards Campaigner Tommy Harte brought Workers' Memorial Day to the UK in 1992 as a day to ‘Remember the Dead: Fight for the Living’. In the UK the campaign for Workers’ Memorial Day has been championed by the Hazards Campaign and taken up by trade unions, adopted by Scotland's TUC in 1993, followed by the TUC in 1999 and the Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive in 2000.

April 28 is recognised by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) as International Workers' Memorial Day. In 1996 the ICFTU commemorated Workers' Memorial Day and began to set annual 'themes'. For 2006 the ICFTU theme was Union workplaces: safer workplaces, focusing on a global ban on asbestos and increased awareness of HIV/AIDS. During 2001 the ILO, part of the United Nations, recognised Workers' Memorial Day and declared it World Day for Safety and Health at Work and in 2002 the ILO announced that April 28 should be an official day in the United Nations system.


Workers’ Memorial Day is now an international day of remembrance of workers killed in incidents at work, or by diseases caused by work, and annually on April 28, Workers' Memorial Day events are held throughout the world. Some examples include active campaigning, and workplace awareness events. Public events include speeches, multi-faith religious services, laying wreaths, planting trees, unveiling monuments, balloon releases, raising public awareness of issues and laying out empty shoes to symbolise those who have died at work.


World Day for Safety and Health at Work


World Day for Safety and Health at Work is a UN international day that is celebrated every April 28. It is concerned about safe work and awareness of the dimensions and consequences of work-related accidents and diseases to place occupational safety and health (OSH) on the international and national agendas and to provide support to the national efforts for the improvement of national OSH systems and programmes in line with relevant international labour standards.


Worldwide labour safety statistics

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), across the world:

  • Each year, more than two million men and women die as a result of work-related accidents and diseases

  • Workers suffer approximately 270 million accidents each year, and fall victim to some 160 million incidents of work-related illnesses

  • Hazardous substances kill 440,000 workers annually – asbestos claims 100,000 lives

  • One worker dies every 15 seconds worldwide. 6,000 workers die every day. More people die while at work than those fighting wars


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