The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 01, 2011

Michigan’s a comparatively safe state, study shows

By The Building Tradesman

Michigan had good-to-excellent marks among the states in a worker safety scorecard issued this spring by the AFL-CIO titled, Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.

Our state was tied for the 10th lowest on-the-job fatality rate for workers, and was in the middle of the pack among the states with an injury/illness rate of 4.2 per 100,000 workers, although information for 10 states was unavailable in this category. The information was based on incidents that occurred in 2009 using preliminary Bureau of Labor of Statistics numbers.

The report said nationwide, in this the 40th anniversary year of the founding of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, “workers in the United States need more safety and health protection, not less. Forty years after the passage of OSHA, there is much more work to be done.”

Following are some nuggets from the report:

* In 2009, 4,340 workers were killed on the job – an average of 12 workers every day – and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases. More than 4.1 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but it said that number is likely two-to-three times greater.

* The cost of job injuries and illnesses, the report said, “is enormous” – estimated at $159 billion to $318 billion a year for direct and indirect costs of disabling injuries.

* One measure that’s frequently used to compare safety standards among the states is the number of years it would take for a state or federal agency to inspect all of a state’s jobsites. In Michigan it would take 49 years, but in this case, that’s a comparatively good thing, since we’re ranked fourth best in that category. Oregon is the top rated state, at 23 years. The worst: Florida, 241 years.

* The states with the worst fatality rates: Montana has that dubious distinction, with 10.8 workers killed per 100,000 workers. That state is followed by Louisiana, North Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska.

* The states with the lowest worker fatality rates: New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Arizona, Delaware, and Massachusetts.

* Despite a horrible statewide economy for the last decade and state workforce reductions left and right, Michigan was still tied for ninth among the states in the number of workplace inspectors on staff, with 77.

* Michigan ranked near the bottom, No. 48, in the amount of penalties imposed on rule-breaking employers. That ranking jibes with the state MIOSHA policy of working cooperatively with employers to implement safety programs – essentially using the carrot approach rather than the stick.

The report said President Obama “has appointed strong, pro-worker safety and health advocates” to head OSHA and the Mine Safety Health Administration, and “has moved forward with new safety and health standards on job hazards and new initiatives to strengthen enforcement. The administration has increased the job safety budget and hired hundreds of new inspectors, restoring the cuts made during the Bush administration.”

The report was less kind to the G.W. Bush administration.

“Eight years of neglect and inaction by the Bush administration seriously eroded safety and health protections,” the report said. “Standards were repealed, withdrawn or blocked. Major hazards were not addressed. The job safety budget was cut. Voluntary compliance replaced strong enforcement. In the absence of strong government oversight and enforcement, many employers cut back their workplace safety and health efforts.”

The AFL-CIO report said the Republican majority in the House is threatening progress in safety and health by blocking new regulations and attempting to slash OSHA’s budget.