Death is an inevitable reality for everyone. Although we don’t have any control in stopping this from happening, we do have some control with how this happens. For the most part, we work so we can live, and in return for us dedicating so much of our lives to our work, it is our employer’s responsibility to ensure that we can get home safely every day. When there are fatalities at work through negligence and lack of safety measures, this is a complete failure from businesses to protect employees. Death is devastating at any time, but when people die during their working life, in particular, there is a sense of injustice that can make grieving for family and friends far more difficult to process and cope with. Beyond the initial hurt, death leaves a huge hole in families, creating a damaging path of emotional and financial struggles that can last a lifetime.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports over 5,000 deaths per year in the US from workplace injuries alone. Although this is a devastatingly large loss of life, this number is minuscule when compared to the estimated 53,000 deaths attributed to occupational illnesses. These statistics highlight some very worrying realities that workplaces in the US are failing to support their workforce, placing them at unnecessary risk and costing thousands of innocent lives. One of the biggest areas of concern is the emotional and financial wellbeing of over 58,000 American families every year that go through this and how these deaths will impact them.
The initial loss of a loved one is met with a wide range of feelings. These can vary from denial, confusion and shock to sadness, anger and despair, all of which are normal expressions of emotions. There is no formula to the length and intensity of these feelings and every person experiences bereavement and grief differently, but the key similarity is everyone goes through an experience with death that will shape and change their lives dramatically. During grieving, these emotions can impact on a lot of our psychological and physiological functions which can lead to trouble sleeping, exhaustion, loss of appetite, stomach pains, problems with concentration, restlessness or hyperactivity and difficulty making decisions. These effects again are normal and part of the process. However, they can also indicate the emotional trauma that the person is experiencing and the degree to which it is affecting them.
For children, this experience is very similar but is impacted largely by the developmental stages they’re at. This can dictate their psychological and physiological responses and the intensity in which the death impacts on their lives. Immediate reactions for children under the age of two may result in loss of speech. Those below the age of five are likely to respond with eating, sleeping and bodily function disturbances. School-age children tend to become withdrawn, hypochondriacal or excessively care giving, and for boys, in particular, this sadness may be expressed in aggressive acts. Teenagers tend to grieve more similarly to adults, but with fears of not fitting in, so instead they suppress their emotions which can lead to other psychological issues later on.
Some of the most concerning outcomes however are not just in the initial wake of the death, but the intermediate and long-term effects. Children that suffer the loss of a parent are more likely to become withdrawn, display dysfunctional behavior at school, have poorer academic performance and participate in delinquent behavior. In addition to this, children’s ability to form interpersonal relationships depends greatly on the quality of the relationship that they have with their parents. The attachment theory suggests that children that suffer the loss of a parent struggle to form relationships due to prolonged grief and failure to resolve their sense of loss. Because of this and the suppression of emotions, these children are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders and sadly have a far higher suicide rate.
Similarly, adults suffer from a lot of the same struggles as their children when their spouse dies, but these are also met with another set of realities. They now have to assume both parental roles which comes with different sets of responsibilities and can be particularly hard to fill. They also have to support their children through the changes and grief while finding time to process their own loss also and looking after their own mental health. A common occurrence is the decline in their own health and in particular, there is an increased likelihood of strokes and heart attacks. If the primary earner is the one who has died then this brings along a whole new range of financial implications which adds stress and uncertainty and can lead to further social changes like starting work again and sending children to day and after school care to find the time to work. Most devastating of all, they have lost their life partner, leaving a huge void that will never be the same again.
When we look at the reasons why we protect ourselves, it becomes pretty clear that it isn’t just for us. Our protection that we put on each day is part of a bigger picture and that is to protect the ones we love. It is up to our employers to ensure we have the right protection, but it is also up to us to speak up when we aren’t happy with how things are being done. If you become part of this statistic, your employers aren’t going to be there to pick up the broken pieces, it’s your family, and they’re the ones who are truly going to suffer.
Bureau of Statistics. (2019, December 17). NATIONAL CENSUS OF FATAL OCCUPATIONAL INJURIES IN 2018. Retrieved from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cfoi.pdf
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