The 29th Workers' Memorial Day Commemoration

May 15, 2017

This past April 28, Boston’s observance of International Workers’ Memorial Day attracted a record crowd, in no small part due to a horrible tragedy that occurred six months prior.
This past October, Robert Higgins and Kelvin Mattocks were working in a trench their employer, Atlantic Drain Services, knew lacked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-required protections needed to prevent the earth from caving in around them. In fact, Atlantic Drain Services had a history of putting their workers in danger, forcing OSHA to include them in its Severe Violator program. The careless business practices of their employer cost Robert and Kelvin their lives when a water supply line ruptured into the trench while they were working, drowning the men in a deadly mix of dirt and water. It took Boston firefighters hours to recover the workers’ bodies, one of whom was found fully encased in a standing position.
On a beautiful spring day, the Mattocks family, along with others who had lost a loved one on the job, MassCOSH, Massachusetts AFL-CIO leadership, and well over 100 worker advocates bowed their heads as the names of the 70 workers we lost in 2016 were read aloud.
The event was made more powerful still when families addressed the crowd after the reading to remember a loved one who went to work and never came home.
“January 7th when I got a call at 11 in the morning that my brother fell, it’s the worst feeling in the world,” explained Bob Bryant, emotionally overwhelmed by the occasion. Bryant lost his brother, Norval Bryant, when he fell while working without a safety harness or netting on the roof of a Lynn home on Jan. 7, 2016. “When they read my brother’s name, I cried,” said Bryant, attempting to hold back tears.
Workers’ Memorial Day also marked the public release of 2017’s Dying for Work in Massachusetts: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces. The 27-page report details how workers like Kelvin and Robert lost their lives on the job in 2016 and what must be done to keep workers safe. Click here to read the report.

  • The report highlights several facts regarding dangerous work, including:
  • Massachusetts experienced a 10-year high in worker fatalities in 2016, with 70 workers lost that year due to job-related hazards.
  • The construction industry remains the most dangerous for workers, accounting for 25 deaths, nearly 40% of all workers fatally injured on the job.
  • Transportation incidents were the leading cause of fatal injuries in Massachusetts, contributing to the deaths of 25 workers. Transportation incidents were also the leading cause of fatal injuries in 2015.
  • The youngest worker killed was just 18 years old; the oldest was 74 years old. All but one of the workers killed were men.
  • Eight workers who lost their lives were immigrants; their deaths accounted for 13% of 2016’s total. 

“What I hope the public takes away from this report is that worker health and safety issues are not part of history, they are very much a part of the present," said MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan. “When employer precautions are not taken to protect workers, people die. In Dying for Work, we also carefully examined how Trump Administration actions could make it easier for employers to short skirt their responsibilities to keep us safe on the job, troubling activities that could result in even more tragedy for working families.”
Before Workers’ Memorial Day concluded, MassCOSH and its members took the opportunity to renew their commitment to mourn for the dead, but to fight for the living. In the coming months, MassCOSH and its allies will be working to:

  • Pass H.1033 An Act Relative to Workplace Safety, which would make it state policy to refuse to grant necessary construction permits to businesses with a history of putting their workers in danger.
  • Increase manslaughter penalties for employers who recklessly or negligently cause a worker to be killed or seriously injured on the job. Passing, S.858 An Act to Increase the Penalties for Corporate Manslaughter would raise the fine from where it stands today at $1,000, to $250,000.
  • Enact legislation that holds companies that subcontract, outsource, or use temporary agencies jointly responsible for wage violations and the health and safety of those workers. By passing H.1033 An Act to Prevent Wage Theft and Promote Employer Accountability, workers can be assured these protections.