Workers Memorial Day

According to the AFL-CIO’s annual Death on the Job report,

Since 1970, when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed, workplace safety and health conditions have improved. But too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death. In recent weeks and months there have been a series of workplace tragedies that have heightened concerns—the coal mine disaster at the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29 miners, an explosion a few days earlier at the Tesoro Refinery in Washington State that killed six workers, and the explosion at the Kleen Energy Plant in Connecticut in February that also claimed the
lives of six workers.

In 2008, 5,214 workers were killed on the job—an average of 14 workers every day—and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases. More than 4.6 million work-related injuries were reported, but this number understates the problem. The true toll of job injuries is two to three times greater—about 9 to 14 million job injuries each year.

The risk of job fatalities and injuries varies widely from state to state, in part due to the mix of industries. Wyoming led the country with the highest fatality rate (11.6 per 100,000), followed by Alaska (9.9), Montana (8.3), North Dakota (7.8) and South Dakota (6.9). The lowest state fatality rate (1.0 per 100,000) was reported in New Hampshire, followed by Rhode Island (1.2), Connecticut (1.6), Massachusetts (2.1) and Maryland (2.1). This compares with a national fatality rate of 3.7 per 100,000 workers in 2008.

The report is released for Workers Memorial Day:

Decades of struggle by workers and their unions have resulted in significant improvements in working conditions. But the toll of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths remains enormous. Each year, thousands of workers are killed and millions more are injured or diseased because of their jobs. The unions of the AFL-CIO remember these workers on April 28, Workers Memorial Day.

Workplace fatalities aren’t just sad accidents. They’re products of a system in which employers have little incentive to focus on safety.

When workers are killed on the job, the report notes that employers face “incredibly weak penalties.” The median penalty in 2009 was just $5,000 in fatality cases investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). In 2009, when an employer was cited for a serious safety violation, the average OSHA penalty was just $965.
In addition, the report says OSHA’s inspector workforce is “woefully inadequate,” with just 2,218 inspectors to monitor the 8 million workplaces that fall under OSHA’s jurisdictions.

This is why we need to update the Occupational Safety and Health Act with the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PDF).

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