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Worker Safety In Peril According To New AFL-CIO Report


An average of 150 workers die each day on the job. That startling statistic is one of the many sobering facts in the just released 25th Annual AFL-CIO report, “Death on the Job.” This document, published on April 28, marked Workers Memorial Day.

According to this appraisal of worker safety, in 2014 (the latest year for which data is available), 4,821 workers were killed on the job in the U.S. Additionally, an estimated 50,000 workers died from occupational-related diseases.

The issue of worker safety has been on the hearts and minds of the MTD-affiliated Seafarers International Union, which suffered the loss of 28 union brothers and sisters in the tragic sinking of the El Faro on October 1, 2015. In addition to the American crew, five Polish mariners perished at sea as the cargo ship fell victim to Hurricane Joaquin in the Atlantic Ocean.

According to the AFL-CIO report, in absolute numbers, deaths rose from 4,585 the previous year to 4,821 in 2014.

The report breaks down the most dangerous occupations and states. The localities with the most fatalities include North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota and Mississippi.  The safest states are Massachusetts, California, and New Jersey. Although the report does not spell it out, 10 of the 11 worst states for worker fatalities were the so-called “right-to-work” states.

In addition to lack of union protection in those states, the report notes the federal government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is badly understaffed. It had 5.4 inspectors per million workers in 2014, a lower rate than at its inception in 1974.

The report estimates that state-run OSHA inspectors visit worksites once every 97 years. The federal OSHA is in worse shape, able to inspect worksites once every 145 years.

The most dangerous occupations include farming, fishing, logging, oil wells, refining, and construction. But threats are rising in the healthcare industry, where women endure most of danger from increasing physical attacks. Women were two and a half times more likely to be murdered on the job than men were. A total of 804 workers were murdered, including 367 women. That is 19 percent of all female job-related deaths, compared to 8 percent of male deaths.

Contract workers also are at great risk. Fatalities in this category have risen from 542 in 2011 to 802 in 2014. More than half of them were in construction.

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, reacting to the report, said, “Working people should not have to risk their lives to make a living and support their families. Yet every day, millions of Americans are forced to work with little to no safety protections while big businesses and corporations profit off our lives.”  

Despite these grim numbers, the report points to a ray of hope. Under the current administration, enforcement has risen slightly and health and safety fines have gone up. Though median and average OSHA fines are modest, last November Congress, acting with the president, raised them again significantly.

According to the report, “More than 532,000 workers now can say their lives have been saved since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which promised workers in the country a safe job.”

The AFL-CIO report concludes, “Since the first ‘Death on the Job’ report in 1992, there have been improvements in workplace protections, but at the same time some conditions have gotten worse. Too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death. There is much more work to be done.”

To read the report in its entirety, go here

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