“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” —John F. Kennedy
In 2016, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has released data, 5190 Americans died in the line of duty. They were loggers and librarians, roofers and retail sales associates, teachers and trash collectors. And yes, they were police officers and firefighters. They all died while doing what was expected of their particular job or profession. None of them went to work the day they were killed expecting to die and all of them left friends and family who grieve their loss. Make no mistake—they all died in the line of duty.
Killed in the Line of Duty?
Some will take offense. Shouldn’t “Killed in the line of duty” be a phrase reserved for soldiers, police officers, and firefighters? Isn’t everyone else is just a “work-related fatality”? Right?
Is the sacrifice of a teacher who dies while teaching or a trash collector killed while collecting trash any less ultimate? Aren’t logging and roofing honorable occupations, performed in the service of others? The phrase, “killed in the line of duty,” confers honor on the fallen, and the sacrifice of any person who dies doing their job is honorable and ultimate. None of them are coming back.
Should “killed in the line of duty” be a phrase reserved for especially dangerous jobs? Again, the BLS also gives us some insight into the occupations that are most dangerous. The data for 2016 is not much different than for other years:
Logging 135.9 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalents
Commercial fishers 86.0 fatalities per 100,000 FTEs
Pilots and flight engineers 55.5 fatalities per 100,000 FTEs
Roofers 48.6 fatalities per 100,000 FTEs
Trash collectors 34.1 fatalities per 100,000 FTEs
Structural steel workers 25.1 fatalities per 100,000 FTEs
Neither police officers nor firefighters are in the top ten most dangerous occupations. In fact, when considering the four departments with the greatest number of hourly employees in most municipalities, there are more dangerous jobs:
Municipal waste department 34.1 fatalities per 100,000 FTEs
Parks and recreation department 17.4 fatalities per 100,000 FTEs
Police department 14.6 fatalities per 100,000 FTEs
Fire department 6.1 fatalities per 100,000 FTEs
I wonder sometimes if a fallen grounds maintenance worker is any less deserving of a parade with bagpipes or whether a trash collector, run down while performing her duties by a careless driver, is any less deserving of a heart-rending speech by a politician on her behalf.
The workers in each of these departments is a public servant, toiling to make a better, safer municipality. Any one of them, if they die on the job, died in the service of their community.
What about homicide?
Should the phrase “killed in the line of duty” be reserved for police officers because they face the possibility of homicide when they go to work? In 2016, there were 127 workplace fatalities in law enforcement. Of those, 75 (~60%) were homicides. There is no question, however, that the other 40% of those fatalities were police officers killed in the line of duty.
The same year, there were 191 workplace fatalities in retail sales. Of those, 138 (~70%) were homicides. There should be no question that any of those deaths were workers killed in the line of duty.
Honor all fallen workers
Law enforcement personnel and firefighters who are killed in the line of duty deserve to be honored for making the ultimate sacrifice in the service of others. So should every worker who dies doing their job. Each and every one of the 5,190 American workers who died on job in 2016 was killed in the line of duty. They were killed doing the work expected of their job or profession, serving others, providing for their loved ones. Each and every one of them is missed.
Workers’ Memorial Day
In the United States and in other countries around the world, April 28 is observed as Workers’ Memorial Day, in remembrance of our co-workers who have died on the job, who have been killed in the line of duty. This year, April 28 is on a Saturday. It won’t be a part of three-day weekend. There won’t be blow-out sales with crazy low prices at the local mall. It will just be us, remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice on the job. Let us honor their sacrifice by striving to make every workplace safer.