The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 17, 2019

Workplace fatals become depressingly common

By The Building Tradesman

The annual, depressingly titled Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect report, issued by the AFL-CIO on April 25, provides a reminder that too many workers go to work but don't come home. 

The report marks the 28th year the AFL-CIO has produced its findings on the state of safety and health protections for workers within the United States. The numbers are delayed a year because of the time it takes to compile the federal statistics. 

Nationally, 5,147 American workers died on the job in 2017, a small decrease from  deaths the previous year. Another estimated 95,000 died from occupational diseases, meaning approximately 275 U.S. workers died each day from preventable, hazardous workplace conditions. Overall, the national job fatality rate was 3.5 per 100,000, workers down slightly from 3.6 in 2016.

“This is a national crisis. And it’s well past time that our elected leaders in Washington, D.C., stop playing politics and take action to prevent these tragedies," said AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka. "Instead, the Trump administration is actually gutting the protections we fought so hard to win in the first place. This is unacceptable. It’s shameful. And the labor movement is doing everything in our power to stop it.”

Trumka expressed support for H.R.1309—Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act—legislation that, if passed, would be instrumental in preventing workplace violence in high-risk employment sectors.

Michigan had the 22nd highest rate of workplace deaths among the states in 2017. The analysis, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows that 153 Michigan workers lost their lives due to on-the-job injuries, resulting in 3.4 deaths per 100,000 workers.  

Nationally, workplace violence is now the second-leading cause of workplace death (behind traffic accidents), accounting for 807 fatalities, including 458 homicides. For the 3rd year in a row, workplace violence injuries increased, with nearly 29,000 workers suffering serious violence-related injuries due to assault on the job. 

“This report is a solemn reminder of the dangers facing working people as we commemorate Workers Memorial Day on April 28,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber. "Michigan’s working families deserve better. We have a right to a safe workplace. We deserve leaders in Lansing and Washington who will stand up and protect the freedoms of working people. It’s time for change. It’s time for the safety, economic rights and dignity of the working men and women of Michigan to be made a priority.”

This marks the 28th year the AFL-CIO has produced its findings on the state of safety and health protections for workers within the United States. The report shows the highest workplace fatality rates are in Alaska (10.2 per 100,000 workers), North Dakota (10.1), Wyoming (7.7), West Virginia (7.4) and South Dakota (7.3). Other report highlights show that Latino workers continue to be at increased risk of job death, and that the number of Latino worker deaths increased in 2017 to 903 from 879. Deaths among older workers also increased: workers 65 or older have nearly three times the risk of dying on the job as workers overall. Construction, transportation and agriculture industries remain among the most dangerous. 

In 2017, 917  construction workers were killed—the highest total of any sector, with a rate of 9.5 per 100,000 workers. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting was the most dangerous industry sector, with a fatality rate of 23.0 per 100,000 workers. 

Despite the findings, OSHA’s resources are declining. Currently, federal OSHA has only 752 inspectors—the lowest number since the early 1970s. It would take the agency 165 years to visit workplaces under its jurisdiction just once. Yet, the AFL-CIO said the Trump Administration "has continued to enact an aggressive deregulatory agenda, gut safety rules, propose deep cuts to worker safety and health training and job safety research, and has refused to move forward with new rules to protect workers against growing threats."

Besides failing to act on workplace violence, the administration has suspended action on a new Mine Safety and Health Administration silica standard, even as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has reported the largest cluster of pneumoconiosis in coal miners seen in years. More than 400 cases of advanced progressive massive fibrosis were reported from just three Appalachian clinics from 2013 to 2017—with exposure to silica identified as the primary cause.

And, even as violence increases in the workplace, the Trump administration has sidelined developing and issuing an OSHA workplace violence standard.

President Trump has also proposed cuts in key worker safety and health programs in the budgets for FY 2018, FY 2019 and FY2020, seeking to cut finding for coal mine enforcement; eliminate OSHA’s worker safety and health training program and the Chemical Safety Board; and slash the NIOSH job safety research budget by more than 40 percent. To date, Congress has rejected these proposed cuts.

Some other key findings from the report:

*New Hampshire, New Jersey and Rhode Island had the lowest state fatality rate (1.6 per 100,000 workers).

*Since 1970, there have been 410,000 traumatic worker deaths, but only 99 cases have been criminally prosecuted under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

*The average OSHA penalty for serious worker safety violations is only $3,580. The penalty rises to $7,761, on average, for worker deaths.

*About 8 million public sector workers lack OSHA protection. Their rate of injury and illness is 64 percent higher than private sector employees.

*Workplace violence is now the third-leading cause of death on the job.

*Women face the brunt of workplace violence, accounting for 2 of every 3 people who are attacked.

*Workplace violence caused 807 deaths in 2017 and nearly 29,000 serious injuries. More than 450 of those deaths were homicides.

*Health care and social assistance workers are four times more likely to suffer a workplace violence injury than those who work in other occupations. The level of serious workplace violence injuries for these workers has risen 69 percent in the past decade.