For Immediate Release
Workers’ Memorial Day: A Time for Action on Workplace Safety
Statement of Lena Pons, Policy Analyst, Public Citizen
WASHINGTON - Fourteen workers die on the job in the United States every day. Tens
of thousands more die from occupational disease. In 2008, there were
more than 5,000 fatalities on the job. In April alone, there have been
several tragic workplace incidents resulting in fatalities. The mine
explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29
miners. A refinery explosion in Washington state killed seven workers.
And less than a week ago, an explosion on an offshore oil rig left 11
workers missing and presumed dead.
Today, on Workers’ Memorial Day, it is important to remember that
these tragic events are preventable, and workers deserve for them to be
prevented. The deaths are the predictable result of deliberately
weakened federal agencies charged with ensuring workplace safety,
coupled with intransigent employers who cut corners on safety, injuring
and killing their workers to pad the company’s bottom line.
The Upper Big Branch mine had been cited for safety violations
hundreds of times this past year, many times for methane buildup, the
suspected problem in the April 5 explosion. In light of this record,
the mine should have been subject to tougher scrutiny and sanctions by
the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MHSA). But the MSHA is
hampered by a backlog of more than 16,000 contested violations at the
Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (FMSHRC), which
reviews appeals of safety citations. This backlog has put MSHA years
behind on identifying and acting on chronic safety problems at
particular mines. MSHA and FMSHRC should be provided with the personnel
and resources necessary to address all serious mine safety violations
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also needs
several improvements. Both MSHA and OSHA need, among other things,
tougher enforcement authority and stronger penalties to tip companies’
incentives toward keeping workers safe. Better protections are also
needed for whistleblowers to ensure that workers feel free to report
violations that occur in the workplace. Congress should act quickly to
remedy problems at the agencies. A good start would be to strengthen
and quickly pass the Supplemental Mine Improvement and New Emergency
Response (S-MINER) Act and the Protecting America’s Workers Act.
Too many workers needlessly die in the workplace due to preventable
and foreseeable hazards. Employers must know that violating health and
safety regulations is not the cost of doing business. The human cost is
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