Workers’ Memorial Day honors all who lost their lives on the job

Recognized annually as Workers’ Memorial Day, April 28 is a day of respect for those who lost their lives on the job and a day to heighten awareness about the need to safeguard the health and well-being of all workers.

“We remember and honor every worker who has lost their life to largely preventable fatal injuries and illnesses, and we commit ourselves to fighting to make sure that others do not suffer the same terrible fate,” a statement from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reads on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.

“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. 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.”

Senator Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, introduced legislation establishing a commission to create a memorial for frontline and healthcare workers who valiantly fought and risked their lives battling the coronavirus.

The bill, which passed both houses last month, is headed to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk to be signed into law.

Workers Memorial Day, Diegnan said, is a time to reflect upon all whose lives have been lost to work-related incidents or illnesses, including frontline and healthcare workers. The day also aims to improve workplace safety regulations.

“We mourn the tragic passing of every employee in all fields whose life was claimed on the job,” Diegnan said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them, their families, friends, and co-workers.”

Diegnan’s legislation establishing the “COVID-19 Frontline and Healthcare Worker Memorial Commission” requires the commission to select a suitable design and location for the memorial and establishes a non-lapsing fund to serve as a repository for any donations or appropriations provided for the memorial’s design, construction, and maintenance.

Since the pandemic’s onset, more than 2.25 million New Jerseyans have contracted COVID-19, which has accounted for the deaths of more than 33,00 state residents.

These casualties include frontline and healthcare workers who displayed tremendous courage and dedication in their efforts to treat coronavirus patients, Diegnan said.

According to project reporting from Kaiser Health News and The Guardian, more than 3,600 health care workers nationwide died fighting COVID-19 during the first year of the pandemic alone. New Jersey accounted for nearly 270 of those deaths, ranking fourth in the country behind New York, Texas, and California.

“These frontline and healthcare workers,” Diegnan said, “are the definition of the word heroes.”

Healthcare workers from myriad fields, including those from police and fire departments, rose above their usual scope of duties to combat the surging cases of COVID-19, often with limited healthcare resources.

As one of the early epicenters of COVID-19, it is important for New Jersey to memorialize the tragic consequences of the pandemic and recognize the state’s immense loss of life, said Diegnan, noting New Jersey has endured the fourth most per-capita statewide coronavirus deaths in the country.

The “COVID-19 Frontline and Healthcare Worker Memorial Commission” will consist of nine public members who are state residents and representative of frontline and healthcare workers.

The Speaker of the General Assembly, the Senate President, and the Governor will each appoint three public members of the commission.

Of the frontline workers who paid the ultimate price for their selflessness, Diegnan said, “Hopefully, this memorial will bring some comfort to their families.

“It is important that their sacrifice never be forgotten.”

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