Workers Memorial Day

04/26/2013 04:54 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2013

On Sunday, April 28th, we observe Workers Memorial Day. It is a day to honor those workers who have died, been disabled, injured or made sick by their work. It is also a day to acknowledge the suffering experienced by families and communities and to recommit ourselves to the fight for safe and healthy workplace for all workers.

As the new Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, I am committed to working with employers and workers to do everything possible to make the workplace safer and to target bad actors.

Too many people each year mark this day by remembering loved ones lost in a workplace tragedy.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, the most recent data available, 4,693 workers in the U.S. and 186 in Pennsylvania were killed on the job, nearly 4 million were injured and an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 died from occupational diseases.

That's about 150 worker deaths per day. These aren't just numbers -- each individual worker represents a family or loved one who is equally impacted by the tragedy.

This year's Worker Memorial Day is particularly poignant due to the occupational safety tragedies of late, including the fertilizer explosion in West, Texas last week that injured over 200 and has claimed 14 lives, including two employees of the plant, five EMS responders, five volunteer firefighters and two neighboring residents. While work is just beginning on determining the cause of this incident I pledge to work to do everything in my power to make sure those workers and their families are respected and honored throughout that process.

While many whistleblower statutes have been updated in recent years, important federal protections for workers who report unsafe working conditions have not been updated since the Nixon administration. Workers see firsthand the hazards on the job and in their workplaces, and they are an important resource in addressing these hazards. But in order for workers to properly identify and report workplace hazards, they must first have confidence that they will not lose their jobs or face other types of retaliation for doing so. It is clear that OSHA whistleblower protections must be updated.

I am also supporting new legislation to update our workplace safety laws and enforcement tools to reduce the number of work related injuries and deaths.

The Protecting America's Workers Act expands and strengthens workplace safety law by amending the Occupational Safety and Health Act to cover more workers, update penalties, strengthen protections, enhance public accountability, and clarify an employer's duty to provide safe work environment. This legislation is good for workers and it's good for business.

While some progress has been made to protect the health and safety of coal miners since 29 miners were killed in the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine tragedy, the investigations of that disaster led to additional recommendations that have been incorporated into legislation I am supporting, the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act. We must learn from this horrible tragedy and make changes to protect the health and safety of coal miners.

Every worker deserves to be confident that while doing their jobs, their employers are doing everything they can to protect them. And no employer who provides a safe workplace should be at a competitive disadvantage to those that take short cuts and disregard safety laws at the expense of safety.