Helping The Story Continue

Sharing the gift of continuing education as a way to honor those who have been impacted by workplace fatalities

April 27, 2023 | By GTPE Communications
Hard hat sitting on a bench with background that is out of focus. Worker's Memorial Day and the GT logo is featured in text at the top.

Each year at the end of April, Workers Memorial Day is observed to remember workers who have been killed while on the job or suffered a fatal occupational illness or disease. First established in 1970, the day honors families and communities that have lost spouses, children, siblings, friends, and coworkers. It is also used to spread awareness about workplace incidents in an effort to educate workers and employers and encourage stronger implementation and enforcement of safety measures in the workplace.

Workplace fatalities and accidents do not just affect the lives and financial future of the workers themselves, but of their families as well. In 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 5,486 fatal work injuries; almost a 6% increase over 2021. Although workplace incidents may seem rare, in 2022 an American worker died every 96 minutes.

“When the OSH Act was passed in 1970, the foundation for measurable progress in worker safety and health was laid, and workplaces today are thankfully much safer than they were for our parents and grandparents," said Hilarie Warren, director of the Georgia Tech OSHA Training Institute Education Center (OTIEC). "But some of the same hazards still exist, and new ones are emerging as technology changes, and workforces grow, shrink, and shift."

Supporting the Kids’ Chance Scholarship

For years, the Georgia Tech OTIEC has supported Kids’ Chance of Georgia by contributing a full program certificate in either construction or general industry safety and health to the silent auction held at the annual Georgia Safety, Health, and Environmental Conference. "It is important to us to keep championing for each worker to know their right to return home safe and healthy every day,” says Warren. "We see it as a way to honor those we have lost, while also safeguarding the future."

Kids’ Chance is a non-profit that provides scholarships to children whose parent has suffered a severe or fatal accident at work. These scholarships allow students to pursue higher level education, even if their families must spend money on medical bills or can no longer work in the same capacity.

The proceeds from the silent auction fund Kids’ Chance scholarships provided to families that have been impacted by a parent’s work-related injury or death; Georgia was the first Kids’ Chance charity established in the country and has raised over $6M since its creation in 1988.

Past Auction Winners

In 2021, Carlos Alvarado, safety director at Hemma Concrete, placed the winning silent auction bid after discovering the opportunity to help families affected by work-related losses while developing the next generation of safety and health professionals. Alvarado then gifted the certificate to one of his employees. "Winning was bigger than me," he recalled. "I got to contribute to a family that has sustained a loss and professionally develop one of my team members."

The 2022 silent auction winning bid was placed by Dave Mehlrose, regional safety manager at Allison-Smith Company. Since he had previously earned a Construction Safety Certificate from Georgia Tech, he gifted the opportunity to Joseph McManigal, a safety professional on his team. McManigal completed the Safety and Health Management Certificate in mid-2023 thanks to the commitment of his employer to growing the organization's safety culture and supporting the Kids' Chance Program. Two months later, he was promoted to site safety director on the project he was assigned. McManigal has plans to continue earning certificates with the ultimate goal of completing the Premier Occupational Safety and Health Certificate.

Mehlrose himself has also taken several additional courses since earning his certificate. “It’s all about the education, and that’s why I choose to continue my professional development through Georgia Tech — they provide the best safety training classes.”

In 2023 Victor Shell, Sr., director of safety and transportation at Construction Suppliers Association, won that year's certificate. Shell, Sr. already completed several Occupational Safety and Health certificates through Georgia Tech, nine of the 11 currently available to be exact, and his son, Victor Shell, Jr., is a graduate of the first Professional Master's in Occupational Safety and Health cohort. As a result, Shell, Sr. decided to gift the certificate opportunity to his daughter Brooke, making their educational journeys a family affair.

Looking Forward

Kids’ Chance Scholarships and Worker Memorial Day serve as important reminders of why workplace safety needs to be a priority. Participating in ongoing professional education that teaches you how to increase workplace safety in your own organization is a way to honor those who have been lost and help protect those you work with today and into the future.

“Often, when people think of workplace safety or OSHA, they think of rules or laws or things that get in the way of production," says Warren. “We must remember those rules were written as a result of immeasurable loss. They were established because every year, thousands of Americans died just going to work. Every one of those workers left family, loved ones, and a community behind. They left a story unfinished, but the Kids’ Chance scholarships provide an opportunity for these children and families to write another chapter.”

More information about Kids’ Chance and how to donate is available here.