The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 04, 2018

Another somber report ranks workplace death, injury rates in the U.S.

By The Building Tradesman

The depressingly titled report Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, released last month by the AFL-CIO offered another sobering look at the state of safety in U.S. workplaces.

The annual report, released this year on April 26, said that 5,190 American workers died on the job in 2016, an increase from 4,836 deaths the previous year. In addition, an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 died from occupational diseases, meaning approximately 150 workers died on the job each day from preventable, hazardous workplace conditions. The figures from 2016 were the most recent year available.

“We deserve to walk out the front door in the morning knowing we’ll return home safe and healthy after a full day’s work,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “It’s a travesty that working people continue to lose their lives to corporate greed. The selfish and reckless decisions being made in boardrooms and in Washington are killing the very people who built this country. This is officially a national crisis, and it’s only getting worse.”

In Michigan, there were 162 workplace fatalities and 97,000 workplace-related injuries and illnesses in 2016. That was up from the previous year, when 134 workers were killed and 96,000 injured in 2015. The top causes of fatalities in Michigan were "transportation incidents" (50) and "assaults and violent acts" (37). The last time Michigan had as many on-the-job fatalities was in 2001, where there were 175.

Michigan ranked No. 21 among the states (lower is better) with a rate of 3.3 injuries per 100,000 workers, although it was still worse than the 2.9 nationwide rate. Our state's on-the-job fatality rate was 3.5 per 100,000 workers, a hair below the 3.6 national rate. 

The report shows the highest workplace fatality rates are in Wyoming (12.3 per 100,000 workers), Alaska (10.6), Montana (7.9), South Dakota (7.5) and North Dakota (7.0). Connecticut's 1.6 fatality rate was the lowest in the nation. 

Workplace violence is now the second-leading cause of workplace death, accounting for 866 workplace deaths, including 500 homicides. "Yet, even as deadly violence increases in the workplace, the Trump administration has sidelined a proposed OSHA workplace violence standard," the report said.

Other particulars from the report show that the construction, transportation and agriculture industries remain among the most dangerous. In 2016, 991 construction workers were killed—the highest total of any sector. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting was the most dangerous industry sector, with a fatality rate of 23.2 per 100,000 workers.

Despite the higher numbers of death and injury, OSHA continues to face a desperate dearth of resources. Responsible for regulating 9 million workplaces, the agency’s 764 federal inspectors would need 158 years to visit each site just once. "Yet, the administration has continued to enact an aggressive deregulatory agenda, gutting safety rules and proposing deep cuts to worker safety and health training," the AFL-CIO said.

That rate is better in Michigan, where 59 workplace safety and health inspectors would take 53 years to inspect each workplace once. But when it comes to serious violations of the OSH act, Michigan workplaces were penalized well below the national level, an average of $1,131. Nationwide, the average penalty was $2,633.

This marks the 27th year the AFL-CIO has produced a report on the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers. It features state and national information on workplace fatalities, injuries, illnesses, the number and frequency of workplace inspections, penalties, funding, staffing and public employee coverage under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

The report said President Trump’s budget in both FY 2018 and FY 2019 targeted key worker safety and health programs, proposing to cut funding for coal mine enforcement and to eliminate OSHA’s worker safety and health training program and the Chemical Safety Board and to slash the NIOSH job safety research budget by 40 percent.

"These are challenging times for working people and their unions, and the future prospects for safety and health protections are uncertain," the AFL-CIO said. "What is clear, however, is that the toll of workplace injury, disease and death remains too high. Workers in the United States need more safety and health protection, not less. More than four decades after the passage of the OSH Act, there is much more work to be done."