WASHINGTON - April 26 - The rate of fatal workplace injuries increased for the first time in a decade, according to a new AFL-CIO job safety report, “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect—A National and State-by-State Profile of Worker Safety and Health in the United States.”
“Our nation is still grieving the Sago mineworkers’ deaths and we find it outrageous that in this era more than 150 workers die on the job each and every day,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “It doesn’t have to be this way. America’s corporations must invest more in health and safety protections for working men and women, and our nation’s leaders must start holding them tightly accountable.”
The study shows the reported rates of workplace fatalities rose overall and the reported rates of illnesses and injury declined slightly. On an average day in 2004,152 workers lost their lives as a result of workplace injuries and diseases and another 11,780 were injured, according to the study. Protections across the states vary widely. Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, West Virginia and Kentucky had the highest fatality rates, while Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware and Massachusetts had the lowest.
The study also shows workplace deaths for Latino and immigrant workers sharply increased. In 2004, the fatality rate among Latino workers was 19 percent higher than the fatal injury rate for all U.S. workers. At the national level, fatal injuries to immigrant Latino workers increased 11 percent from 2003 to 2004. Of the foreign born workers who were fatally injured at work in 2004, 60 percent were Latino. The states with the highest number of workplace fatalities among Latino workers were California with 169 deaths, Texas with 150 deaths and Florida with 119 fatalities.
Over the last five years, the Bush Administration cut the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) budgets and put much greater emphasis on voluntary efforts and partnership programs with industries. This does not allow OSHA and MSHA to adequately deal with the new and emerging hazards, including risks to workers from bioterrorist threats and pandemic flu. Additionally, under the Bush Administration, rule making at OSHA and MSHA has ground to a halt. At MSHA, 17 safety and health rules were withdrawn, including rules on mine rescue teams, emergency escape ways and self-contained self- rescuers—all of which could have helped save the 12 miners who died at the Sago mine earlier this year and the miners who lost their lives in the subsequent mine disasters.
Penalties for safety and health violations continue to be low. For federal OSHA the average penalty for a serious violation was just $873. And as the workforce has grown, OSHA’s resources have stagnated. It would now take federal OSHA 117 years to inspect the workplaces under its jurisdiction just once, with inspection workplace oversight in Florida the worst with an inspection frequency of once every 210 years.
Since the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, over 324,000 workers’ lives have been saved. The state-by-state safety report shows that given the size and cost of the job safety problem, the level of federal resources being devoted to job safety and health protections continues to be inadequate, according to the AFL-CIO.
The AFL-CIO study release is part of Workers Memorial Day, April 28, a worldwide annual event going into its 18th year. Tens of thousands of union members and concerned community members will hold events this week to honor those hurt and killed on the job.
For a copy of the report, “Death on the Job,” go to www.aflcio.org/deathonthejob