On May Day, Pennsylvania remembers workplace deaths

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee," runs a well-known line from literature. This year, on May first, however, the bell in nearby Pennsylvania steel town rang to remember workers who died on the job. That date, or 'May Day,' as it is often known, is generally considered a day to celebrate the achievements and consider the plight of men and women who do blue collar or manual labor. Unfortunately, for many of these workers, the very thing that gives them their livelihood also presents them with potentially fatal dangers.

In Lehigh Valley, people gathered at the workers' memorial to remember not only the six laborers who were killed at work over the past year, but those who, historically, have completed untold man-hours of production in the face of potential fatal risks. Heavy industry, like the steel mills that dot Pittsburgh and surrounding areas are especially susceptible to such dangers. With lots of heavy equipment, and temperatures high enough to melt metal, these factories have always been at the forefront of the struggle for worker safety.

While the number of workplace deaths last year pale in comparison to those that occurred one hundred years ago, thanks in part to modern equipment and safety regulations, even one person killed on the job means a family made bereft, grieving and feeling not only the emotional absence of a loved one, but also the loss of financial contributions. Unfortunately, it seems no matter how much we try, it is impossible to completely prevent industrial injuries and deaths.

While some jobs are certainly riskier than others, anyone can suffer a workplace injury. As pointed out by some of those present at the memorials the first weekend in May, employees of Pennsylvania state and local governments are not currently covered by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and inspections. While a bill is pending in the state legislature to change this, even those workers that do have some legal protection may end up meeting death in the workplace. Hopefully, in future years, Western Pennsylvania families will not need to hear the peel of bells up and down the valleys on May Day.

Source: mcall.com, "Remembering Lehigh Valley workers who died on the job," Daryl Nerl, May 1, 2017

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