By Diego Alvarado
One night in September 2022, John Cable was suctioning water and oily sludge from an Orla, Texas, sump pit. When the 54-year-old husband and father of one finished skimming the pit, he handed the hose over to his helper. Suddenly, Cable fell lifelessly onto his back and never got up again.
Investigators later learned he suffered fatal exposure to dangerous hydrogen sulfide fumes. Had Cable been trained as required in his nine months with the company, he might have realized the personal safety monitor he wore that day — that would have prevented his death — wasn’t working.
A federal workplace safety investigation later found Cable’s employer ignored U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements and failed to make sure to put worker protections in place. Needless deaths like his happen far too frequently in Texas and across the nation.
In 2021, 5,190 workers died on the job in the U.S. Each day, 14 people suffer work-related deaths. With 185 workplace deaths, Texas ranked second in the nation in 2021, the last year for which full-year statistics are available.
These numbers remind us of the dangers many workers face. Behind these numbers, there are people who mourn each loss. For them, these statistics are loved ones: they’re parents, children, siblings, relatives, friends, or co-workers.
For those left behind, the day their loved one was lost becomes a sad remembrance. Graduations, birthdays, anniversaries and other special times are forever tainted.
To pay tribute to those whose jobs claimed their lives, April 28 is Workers Memorial Day. This is an opportunity for us to pause and join those families, friends, and co-workers to recall those who suffered work-related injuries and illnesses. The remembrance also recognizes the grief that their survivors face in the days, months, and years after.
Workers Memorial Day also reminds us that more must be done to prevent workplace deaths and injuries. For those of us at the U.S. Department of Labor and, specifically, its Occupational Safety and Health Administration, this annual commemoration reinforces our commitment to developing and enforcing standards and initiatives to safeguard workers and guide employers as they work to provide safe workplaces.
Remember, we all have a role to play in making sure our nation’s workplaces do not endanger our safety and health. If you see people exposed to workplace dangers, don’t ignore your concerns. Alert the employer or contact your local OSHA office or law enforcement agency. Demand that the stores you frequent, the companies that get your business, and those you hire don’t endanger the people they employ. If they won’t, take your business to those who respect their workers’ rights to a safe and healthy workplace, and who don’t put profit ahead of the lives of the people who help them earn it.
On Workers Memorial Day 2023, let’s remember those who didn’t return home after work and commit ourselves to making sure that no one is forced to trade their life for a paycheck.
Diego Alvarado is the OSHA El Paso area office director. The office investigates all worker fatalities and complaints under OSHA’s jurisdiction in the area.