Highlighting worker safety: April 28 is Workers Memorial Day and OSHA 50th Anniversary

April 28, 2021


Group Portrait of Capitol Building Construction Workers, c. 1911. Photograph courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID: 122366.
Group Portrait of Capitol Building Construction Workers, c. 1911. Photograph courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID: 122366.
East Shore Abutment Under Construction, c. 1911. Photograph courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID: 49514.
East Shore Abutment Under Construction, c. 1911. Photograph courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID: 49514.

This week marks two key milestones in the ongoing effort to protect the workforce in Wisconsin and across the country.

Wednesday, April 28, marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the federal regulatory agency that ensures safe conditions for our nation's workers. Former President Nixon signed the federal OSH Act into law on April 28, 1971. In the 50 years since, America's workplaces have been transformed.

"It's important to recognize how far things have come. Together, labor and management have worked for decades to strengthen workplace safety for the benefit of workers and employers alike," said Steven Peters, Administrator of the Worker's Compensation Division at the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD). Peters noted that workplace safety and a strong workers compensation system go hand-in-hand. Wisconsin enacted the nation's first constitutional Worker's Compensation law in 1911. "Fewer work-related injuries and illnesses for workers, along with higher productivity and reduced premiums for employers – these are the results of Wisconsin's model worker's compensation system."

Under this "Grand Bargain," labor and management received benefits in exchange for a stable system. This bargain continues today primarily through the work of the Worker's Compensation Advisory Council (WCAC), through which labor and management work collaboratively to recommend enhancements to the state's worker's compensation system.

"These are incredibly important milestones for workers and employers. The passage of Wisconsin's Worker's Compensation law in 1911. The creation of OSHA in 1971. These led to tremendous changes for the better in workplace safety that we all benefit from today," Peters said.

April 28 also is observed as Workers Memorial Day by DWD, OSHA, various safety organizations, organized labor groups, and other entities. It is a day to pay our respects to people have lost their lives on the job.

East Shore Abutment Under Construction, c. 1911. Photograph courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID: 49514.
East Shore Abutment Under Construction, c. 1911. Photograph courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID: 49514.

"This year, we also recognize that, more than a year into the pandemic, every day essential workers, many of whom are people of color and immigrants, have put their lives on the line during the COVID-19 pandemic," OSHA stated on its website. "Many were sickened or died as a result of just going to work - for simply doing what they had to do to support their families. They were healthcare workers, grocery workers, meatpackers, nurses, delivery drivers, farmworkers, law enforcement officers, teachers, and sanitation workers. "

Information about commemorative events can be found at OSHA's website, including a national virtual event hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor.

DWD features resources offered by OSHA and other external partners to advance workplace safety across the state, on its workplace safety website. Tools available on the page include:

  • Putting Together a Safe Workplace, a publication that highlights key considerations, reviews core safety program elements, and includes a comprehensive list of resources and organizations to support the creation of robust workplace safety programs.
  • Safety Corner, a blog authored by WC Division Safety and Risk Manager Dave Leix, a Certified Safety Professional (CSP). Dave has several decades of professional safety and health managerial and consulting experience to support workplace safety in Wisconsin.
  • Resources such as an insurance safety checklist, statistical information and links to partnering entities.

Learn more about the DWD Worker's Compensation Division online.