Trades remember the fallen, renew call for safety in Workers Memorial Day ceremony

web.wmd2014-aThe Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council held its annual Workers Memorial Day observance last Friday, honoring nine union workers who died over the previous year as a result of workplace injuries or illnesses.

The ceremony, held at the Workers Memorial Garden on the State Capitol grounds, included remarks from St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who renewed the call for safe workplaces and good jobs for all workers.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman delivers remarks during the Building Trades' Workers Memorial Day ceremony.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman delivers remarks during the Building Trades’ Workers Memorial Day ceremony.

“Today we remember those we have lost, but we must remember every day those that are on the site who we must protect,” Coleman said, “so that when they leave home in the morning, they have every assurance that they will come home that night.”

“It is not possible to eliminate all risk” from construction jobs, Coleman added; “but it is possible to reduce unnecessary risk.”

The mayor pointed specifically to the loss of John Valek, a 61-year-old member of Operating Engineers Local 49, who died Sept. 10, 2013 during demolition work on the site of the new St. Paul Saints baseball park downtown.

Building Trades leaders draped black scarves across white crosses bearing the names of Valek and other workers remembered during the ceremony Friday. A bell rang out once as each worker’s name was read.

Two other members of Local 49 were remembered during the ceremony: Jesse Grimsley, 31, who died Aug. 13 in a bulldozer accident, and Corey Lewellin, 34, who died Oct. 21 in a crane accident.

Michael Dalsin, 49, a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 10 who died in a fall March 31, 2014 was included in the remembrance ceremony, as were five workers who died from workplace-related illnesses over the previous year. They included:

• Art Rossbach, 71, a member of Pipefitters Local 455 who died Aug. 7 of mesothelioma.

• Theodore Schmitz, 74, a member of Local 455 who died Aug. 6 of asbestosis.

• Elmer R. Skaaden, 86, a member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 34 who died April 22, 2013 of asbestosis.

• John W. Phillips, 78, a member of Local 34 who died Jan. 18 of lung cancer.

• Alan Crepeau, 70, a member of Local 34 who died Jan. 28 of lung cancer.

Workers Memorial Day observances are continue across the country and throughout the world today, the annual day of reflection on workplace fatalities and safety on the job.

In 2012, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,383 workers were killed by traumatic injuries, down from 4,693 deaths reported the previous year. An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 more workers died from occupational diseases in 2012.

Minnesota saw 70 workplace fatalities in 2012, 15th lowest among states.

Operating Engineers Local 49 member John Valek died last fall during work on the new ballpark downtown St. Paul.

Operating Engineers Local 49 member John Valek died last fall during work on the new ballpark downtown St. Paul.

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