The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 12, 2017

Michigan job fatalities level, but fines are hardly punishing

By The Building Tradesman

The number of Michigan workers who perished on the job in 2016 is not far from average among the 50 states - but the state’s penalties for employers who violate safety rules is.

Michigan reported 134 workplace deaths in 2016, a rate of 3.1 per 100,000 workers, the same as 2015, ranking us No. 21 among the states in that category. But when it comes to imposing penalties on employers who violate OSHA rules, Michigan ranked No. 48, with an average penalty of $763. That's compared to the top state for penalties, California, which imposed an average of $7,131 on offending employers.

In addition, in Michigan, with its 56 workplace safety and health and inspectors, it would take 51 years to inspect each workplace a single time. That's not bad, comparatively: the average among all the states, combining federal and state inspectors, is 126 years. 

Michigan also had 96,000 workplace-related injuries and illnesses in 2015. 

By far, the highest fatality rates in 2016 were in North Dakota (12.5 deaths per 100,000 workers) and Wyoming (12.0). Rhode Island (1.2) and Delaware (1.9) had the lowest rates.

The numbers come from an annual report issued by the AFL-CIO, Death on the Job, which was released in conjunction with Workers Memorial Day on April 28.

“Everyone deserves to have a safe place to work,” said Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. “Even one death in the workplace is too many, and this report shows us that Michigan still has a long way to go to keep people safe on the job.

“Michigan needs to get its priorities straight." Bieber continued. "Instead of giving more tax breaks to their corporate donors, Gov. Snyder and Republicans in the legislature need to focus on improving lives for regular working people, and that includes safer workplaces. We need more inspectors on the beat to enforce our workplace safety laws and hold corporations accountable when they cut corners, break the law, and put workers’ lives at risk.”

MIOSHA for the past several years has pursued a collaborative partnership policy with business owners in Michigan, rather than one that emphasizes fines. One area that they're concentrating on is falls: from 2013 to 2015, MIOSHA said 20 Michigan workers lost their lives on the job due to falls, but in 2016 alone, 22 fall-related deaths occurred, half the 44 deaths MIOSHA investigated last year.  

"Death by falls is a very concerning trend and one which MIOSHA is committed to addressing through increased enforcement and proactive outreach  and  collaboration  with  the  employer  community,”  said MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman.

MIOSHA said it is launching a year-long State Emphasis Program and informational campaign "to raise awareness of fall hazards, and educate employers and employees about the critical importance of fall prevention."