Melissa McLawhorn Houston
Oklahoma Labor Commissioner
Electrocution, struck by, caught between, asphyxiation, fell from height – these are just some of the words used to describe work-related causes of death last year in Oklahoma. But the words do not capture the full impact of the loss.
Every day, many Oklahomans leave their home to go to work to support themselves and their families. And every year, 93 Oklahomans will not return home but will die in a work related death.
Worker’s Memorial Day, on April 28, is an opportunity for us to remember those Oklahomans tragically lost in a work related death and to resolve to do better. It is one of the hardest events for me as Labor Commissioner to attend. To look into the eyes of the family members and know that many of these deaths were preventable.
At the Oklahoma Department of Labor, we are committed to improving workplace safety.
For all of our advancements made in the workplace, preventable injuries and deaths remain an issue. The Oklahoma Department of Labor is combatting that by offering a free, voluntary, and confidential safety consultation program. For private employers, our knowledgeable team can walk through an OSHA inspection, identify hazards, and offer real solutions to avoid costly fines. In 2015, we saved Oklahoma businesses over 33 million dollars in OSHA penalties. That’s money that companies can invest upfront to improve workplace safety.
For public employers, our staff focuses on education, training, and partnering with businesses to ensure compliance with safety standards. Our Public Employer Occupational Safety & Health Unit (PEOSH) has succeeded in lowering the public sector incidence rate over 47% in the last 16 years through targeted training and instruction.
Workplace safety is a culture change, so we are doing our best at the Department of Labor to reach citizens at a young age by instituting curriculum in Oklahoma schools. Young workers are twice as likely to get injured on the job as their adult counterparts. This curriculum gives students the knowledge and skills to be safe, and give employers the benefit of having employees who can recognize and identify hazards. Students from across the state can also enter our “Speak Out for Workplace Safety” video contest. The award-winning student-produced videos are presented at the State Capitol and are used throughout the year to teach other teens about safety on the job.
On April 28, we will commemorate the lives lost last year and reflect on the true cost of workplace safety.
We can do better. Oklahoma workers deserve to be safe, healthy, and able to return home after a day’s hard work.