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Workers Memorial Day commemoration calls for safer workplaces

In an annual commemoration of Workers Memorial Day at the State Capitol, a Democratic lawmaker called Monday for more rights and safer conditions for workers.

“We have to stand up for workers and workers’ rights,” said Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix. “We have to make certain that the laws that we pass here do not deprive the public fundamental things they need to make a living to support their families.”

The Arizona AFL-CIO, a voluntary federation of labor unions in the state, held the event in observance of workers who died or were injured in the workplace during the past year.

In 2011, the latest year for which figures are available, there were 65 occupational fatalities in Arizona, according to the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Twelve of those fatalities resulted from heavy and tractor-trailer truck driving, the most for any one occupation.

David Martinez, a Phoenix Fire Department employee for 19 years, shared his story about being injured while working his job. As he was doing maintenance on an old firehouse, he tripped on a nail that flipped up and went into his eye.

“Since then I’ve had to have numerous surgeries and I don’t know what my eyesight is going to be like,” he said. “I’m going through counseling to deal with it because it’s a depressing thing.”

Bob Grossfeld, a Democratic political strategist, said there just aren’t enough people to regulate safe workplace conditions.

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“There are so few inspectors checking these work environments,” he said. “I can’t remember the exact number, but based on recent numbers, it would take somewhere around 177 years to inspect all the workplaces that need it.”

McCune Davis said ensuring that people have safe workplaces affects everyone.

“It’s important because it’s the fundamental thing that happens in Arizona, and that’s people getting up in the morning to go to work,” she said. “What would Arizona be if that wasn’t the absolute underpinning of our economy?”

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Workplace deaths in 2011

  • 65 fatalities.
  • Fatality rate: 2.7 deaths for every 100,000 workers.
  • 25 fatalities were in transportation, 38 percent of the total.
  • 14 fatalities resulted from violence and other injuries by persons or animals.

Source: Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health