At The Huffington Post, Alissa Scheller has an article that includes nine charts that show very clearly the key takeaways from the AFL-CIO’s recent Death on the Job report. These charts explore the issue of who the 4,600 who die on the job each year are and what is contributing to their deaths.
Today is the 25th annual Workers Memorial Day, and around the country workers, workplace safety activists and community and faith leaders are honoring the men and women killed on the job and renewing their commitment to continuing the campaign for strong job safety laws and tough enforcement of those laws.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says Workers Memorial Day honors “the ultimate sacrifices working people make to achieve the American Dream.”
No worker should die on the job. Every one of the 150 working men and women who die every day from injury or occupational disease serve as a constant reminder of the dangers too many face at the workplace.
There have been major improvements in the workplace safety rules and significant reduction in fatalities, injuries and illness on the job since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began operations and the Occupational Safety and Health Act went into effect April 28, 1971.
But those key workplace safety milestones didn’t just happen. They came about because workers and their unions organized, fought and demanded action from employers and their government. Virtually every safety and health protection on the books today is there because of working men and women who joined together in unions.
Much more still needs to be done.
In 2012, 4,628 workers lost their lives on the job (up from the 4,400 previously reported). But that is only a part of the deadly toll. Each year, 50,000 workers die from occupational diseases caused by exposures to toxic chemicals and other health hazards. That’s a total of 150 workers dying each and every day.
Some employers cut corners and violate the law, putting workers in serious danger and costing lives. Workers who report job hazards or job injuries are fired or disciplined. Employers contract out dangerous work to try to avoid responsibility. As a result, each year thousands of workers are killed and millions more get injured or contract diseases because of their jobs.
The Obama administration has moved forward to strengthen protections with tougher enforcement and a focus on workers’ rights. Also much-needed safeguards stalled for years due to business opposition have finally started to advance, including a new proposed OSHA silica standard to protect workers from this deadly dust that causes disabling lung disease.
But other protections from workplace hazards have stalled in the face of fierce attacks by business groups and the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives who have launched an all-out attack on all government regulation and safeguards.
Trumka said that as the nation remembers those who have died on the job:
We should rededicate ourselves to holding companies accountable for putting profits over people, and we must demand stronger safety standards in the workplace. Until every worker, from the farm to the factory, is guaranteed the peace of mind of a safe workplace, our job will never truly be done.
TEXAS CITY, Tex. — While the world was focused on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a BP refinery here released huge amounts of toxic chemicals into the air that went unnoticed by residents until many saw their children come down with respiratory problems.
For 40 days after a piece of equipment critical to the refinery’s operation broke down, a total of 538,000 pounds of toxic chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene, poured out of the refinery.
Rather than taking the costly step of shutting down the refinery to make repairs, the engineers at the plant diverted gases to a smokestack and tried to burn them off, but hundreds of thousands of pounds still escaped into the air, according to state environmental officials.
This plant has a history – in 2005, 15 people were killed and more than 170 injured in an explosion, and it’s been sued by the state for pollution violations.
Events like this show the interconnection of safety for workers on the job and families in their homes. Unsafe workplaces are also likely to be the ones that reach out and harm people for miles around by polluting the air and water; companies that profit by endangering their workers are likely to be the ones that don’t worry too much about the air their neighbors breathe.
The song tells the story of a mill fire in which workers were killed because they were locked in. It’s a story that’s been lived out too many times—and, as Tim Eriksen and Riley Baugus noted while playing the song in a recent concert, though this song is historical, the practice of locking workers in is unfortunately not left far enough in the past. They pointed to the 1991 Hamlet chicken processing plant fire as an example, but in many more recent cases workers have reported being locked into other workplaces. Wal-Mart employees, for instance, were locked in overnight until very recently (assuming the store’s claims to have stopped the practice are truthful). They had one single fire door, but were forbidden to use it and in several cases, a needed trip to the hospital was delayed. And that fire door they were forbidden to use? Wal-Mart used to keep fire doors chained until an employee died because paramedics couldn’t get in.
And it’s a pretty safe bet that somewhere in America, there are still workers in a building where there’s no exit even in case of fire.
I came from a strong working class family. I joined a company that was family owned and treated its employees better than anyone else in town. So, you can imagine my surprise when, years later, I became a Transportation Security Administration Officer…an airport screener to the lay person. If private concerns treated their people well, imagine how much better the Federal Government would be.
I was wrong. The Federal Government is little more than a really, really big corporation that doesn’t want to go under, and crunches numbers instead of listening to people. In its vast size, TSA is top heavy without realizing that the left hand doesn’t know what the rights hand is doing. It’s simply too big to be efficient.
So there are flaws, the biggest one being the lack of collective bargaining rights. Oh sure, we have a Union, but no contract. The official statement of the Government, I was told at orientation, is “we don’t acknowledge a union.” Now that the Union has helped Congress created bill H.R. 1881 demanding collective bargaining rights, everything has been stonewalled. Appointments, committees, votes…all on hold for now. And screeners are hanging in the lurch.
We accrue sick leave but are reprimanded when we use it. We are told we must follow Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), but because they are considered “security sensitive information”, there is no printed copy available for us to read. Instead, we’re allowed one hour a week to log onto government computers and request a disc to look at. When we violate the SOP we again are reprimanded. The SOP is so convoluted even our Supervisors are unclear about it.
Despite a sanctioned Safety Committee, we are the walking wounded. We get hurt lugging oversized baggage, we get bumped and trampled in a crowded airport checkpoint, and get worn down from having to follow protocol of carrying everything to an inspection table 30 feet away, searching the bag then rerunning it through the x-ray. Once, twice maybe. But dozens upon dozens of times a day and the body starts to rebel. Those injured are put on workers compensation and are placed in useless, humiliating places around the airport. Rather than rethink how the checkpoint is laid out, management tries to find newer ways to expedite the passenger lines.
My point is, there’s more to a good job than a good wage and good benefits. Employees must be treated with respect and listened to. When you feel that you’re a very small cog in a very big wheel, you lose your incentive to be your best. If employers don’t value their personnel, they’re missing out on a valuable asset that could so easily be realized.