Washington workers who lost their lives to job-related injuries or illnesses in 2013 were honored in a ceremony Tuesday that brought together grieving family members, state officials and representatives of business and labor.
“Today we’re honoring the dignity of 65 Washingtonians who lost their lives putting in an honest day’s work,” Gov. Jay Inslee said during the memorial service at the Department of Labor and Industries headquarters in Tumwater.
The honored workers included Steven Green of Thurston County, an industrial mechanic trapped in a silo collapse in Roy in December; firefighter Albert Nejmeh of Pierce County, who suffered a heart attack on the job last May; and Gale Johnson of Olympia who died in November of complications from surgery related to a fall at Costco, where he was demonstrating a product.
“He was a real family person,” Johnson’s sister-in-law Linnea Glover of Olympia recalled after the service. “He would really do anything you asked him to do.”
The event is designed to honor the fallen workers and help renew everybody’s efforts around workplace safety, according to L&I director Joel Sacks. It’s the 21st year that the agency has held a Worker Memorial Day service.
“Sadly, that represents over 2,000 tragic deaths,” Sacks said.
About 500 people attended the ceremony at L&I headquarters in Tumwater. Each worker’s name was read, and a bell was struck during the service. Afterward, families were invited to ring the large brass bell in L&I’s Worker Memorial Garden, which is only rung one day a year.
“It was really wonderful,” said Sheri Rigdon of Quincy, who attended to honor her companion Steve Weil, who died in a Chelan County tractor accident in October.
“I learned a little bit more about what the department (L&I) does,” said Lucy Hanson of the Stevens Pass area, whose son Don Hanson, a Chelan County lodge owner, was buried in heavy snow while at work in March 2013.
For many L&I workers, especially safety officers, the event provides a sense of closure for fatal cases, said Anne Soiza, assistant director for L&I’s division of Occupation Safety and Health.
“It’s traumatizing for them to investigate and figure out why things happened,” she said. “They are usually working with the family members.”
The fallen workers were from a variety of industries, including construction, agriculture, factory work and truck driving. Seven were firefighters.
One of the biggest causes of death was asbestos-related disease, which affected 18 of the workers.
That’s what killed Larry Langdon, 74, of Bonney Lake.
“He was in construction for over 30 years, and he ended up getting mesothelioma, which is an asbestos-related disease,” said Kris Johnson, Langdon’s stepdaughter. “He was a workaholic. He never missed a day of work.”
She said the memorial service gave a strong message: “Cherish every day you can with your loved ones,” Johnson said. “Because they could go to work one day and not come home.”Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 firstname.lastname@example.org @Lisa_Pemberton