11 Things You Need to Know About Safety for Workers Memorial Day

Every year on April 28, the unions of the AFL-CIO observe Workers Memorial Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job and to renew our efforts for safe workplaces. This year, the struggle continues to create good jobs in this country that are safe and healthy and pay fair wages and to ensure the freedom of workers to form unions and, through their unions, to speak out and bargain for respect and a better future.

Here are 11 facts about worker safety and health you should know in honor of Workers Memorial Day:

1. In 2013, more than 4,400 workers were killed on the job and more than 50,000 more died from occupational diseases.

2. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 4 million workplace injuries and illnesses were reported. Research indicates that the numbers may be underestimated and may actually be two or three times greater than what BLS reports.

3. Certain occupations have much greater risk than others. These include agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, transportation, warehousing, mining and construction.

4. More than 8 million state and local public employees lack the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protections while they face a 58% higher injury and illness rate than private-sector workers.

5. Latino workers have a workplace fatality rate 19% higher than the national average. The majority of these workers are immigrants.

6. There is no federal workplace standard (and few state standards) for workplace violence. Meanwhile there were more than 26,000 workplace injuries related to violence in 2013, including nearly 400 deaths. Women workers in health care and social assistance are most likely to face workplace violence.

7. Workplace suicides, many related to toxic work environments and bullying, increased by 8% in 2013.

8. The Occupational Safety and Health Act is more than 40 years old and is out of date. Millions of workers aren’t covered, workers’ rights are limited and penalties for violating the law are weak.

9. OSHA has fewer than 900 inspectors, meaning they can inspect workplaces, on average, once every 140 years. State OSHA inspectors amount to a little more than 1,000, meaning they can inspect workplaces once every 91 years.

10. Many workers face retaliation at work for raising job safety concerns or reporting injuries.

11. Most workplace chemical hazards are unregulated and the rules in place haven’t been updated since 1971.

Find a Workers Memorial Day event near you.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Rana Plaza, 2 Years Later: Garment Workers Under Siege

April 24 is the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,130 garment workers. The AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s Tula Connell reports that in the months after the 2013 tragedy, global outrage spurred much-needed changes, including the closing of dozens of unsafe factories, the adoption of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and, most significantly, the formation and recognition of workers’ unions by the Bangladeshi government.

But in recent months, those freedoms are increasingly rare, say garment workers and union leaders….Despite garment workers’ desire to join a union, they increasingly face barriers to do so, including employer intimidation, threatened or actual physical violence, loss of jobs and government-imposed barriers to registration. Regulators also seem unwilling to penalize employers for unfair labor practices.

In addition, thousands of workers still toil in unsafe factories. In the two years since the fire at Tazreen Fashions, at least 31 workers have died in garment factory fire incidents in Bangladesh, and more than 900 people have been injured (excluding Rana Plaza), according to Solidarity Center data.

Read the full story here, and on Wednesday be sure to check back with the Solidarity Center for stories from the survivors and about the lack of sufficient compensation for survivors and families of those killed.

Read more herehere and here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Study Finds Union Mines Safer, More Productive Than Nonunion

Once again, a study has shown that unionized coal mines are not only safer places to work than nonunion mines, but that union miners produce more coal. The study, by SNL Energy, found that in 2013 unionized mines in northern and central Appalachia produced about 94,091 tons of coal per injury versus 71,110 in nonunion mines, despite research suggesting that unionized miners are more likely to report injuries that have occurred on the job.

The SNL report notes that its findings follow a 2012 study authored by Stanford University labor regulation expert Alison Morantz and found that unionization is associated with a 13% to 30% drop in traumatic injuries and a 28% to 83% drop in fatalities in data from 1993 to 2010.

When it comes to production, union miners produced about 17% more coal per employee an hour than workers at nonunion mines in 2013 and 16% more last year.

In an article on the study on its website, Phil Smith, a spokesman for the Mine Workers (UMWA), told SNL Energy:

The union was formed 125 years ago by miners seeking to improve their pay and working conditions, including making the mines safer places to work. Those needs still exist today. [SNL Energy's] data demonstrates that union mines are safer mines; others have found similar results.

Both Smith and Tony Oppegard, a Kentucky attorney who specializes in mining laws and coal mine safety, pointed to the protections in a union contract, including the right to refuse unsafe work without retaliation and a worker-elected and empowered mine safety committee, as key factors in the better safety records at union mines. Oppegard said:

You work in a nonunion mine, you pretty much do what you’re told to do, including risking life and limb, or else you’re going to lose your job….At a nonunion mine, they don’t have that same cushion to try to resolve issues at the job site.

Read the full story here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The State of America’s Deadly Jobs, in 9 Charts

The State of America's Deadly Jobs, in 9 Charts

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.

OccupationalFatalities1_1

OccupationalFatalities2

OccupationalFatalities4_1

OccupationalFatalities5

OccupationalFatalities6

OccupationalFatalities7

OccupationalFatalities8

OccupationalFatalities9

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Workers Memorial Day: Honor the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living

Workers Memorial Day: Honor the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living

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.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Could Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Survive One of His Company’s Own Warehouses for a Week?

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That’s the question Nancy Becker, an American employed by Amazon in Germany since 2001, asked as she trekked to Seattle this week to stand up for the rights of workers in the online retailer’s “fulfillment centers.” The centers—little more than warehouses where workers are faced with near-impossible workloads for minimal pay—are the subject of rallies in Seattle and Germany on Monday. Becker traveled from her workplace in Germany, “I’m coming to Seattle to dare Jeff Bezos to try working as a picker for a single week. I’m sure he would not survive.”

In recent months, workers at Amazon’s warehouses in Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig and Graben in Germany have engaged in a series of rolling strikes. They are hoping to increase pressure on Amazon by sending protesters to the company’s Seattle headquarters, where they were joined by American workers also opposed to the low wages and harsh work conditions that the company’s American warehouses share.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

We welcome the German Amazon workers and their union, ver.di, to the United States. Just as German workers have stood in support of U.S. workers employed by global corporations, we join your fight for fairness at one of the largest corporate retailers in the world. It’s time that Amazon make good on its obligations to its workers, not just its shareholders and executives, and we will be there in Seattle to make our voices heard.

The complaints about Amazon are pretty similar in both countries: “The Amazon system is characterized by low wages, permanent performance pressure and short-term contracts,” said Stefanie Nutzenberger, a board member of ver.di, the union representing the German Amazon workers. Instead of classifying fulfillment center workers as retail employees, the company calls them “logistics” workers and then pays them lower rates than they would have to pay retail workers. This misclassification allows the company to claim that it’s paying workers a higher wage for their field than other companies, when the reality is they would have significantly higher wages if correctly classified as retail workers. And despite claims that Amazon has made about safety being a top priority, “Last month, an investigation by the BBC’s “Panorama” program into a U.K.-based Amazon warehouse found conditions a stress expert said could cause ‘mental and physical illness.’”

Workers categorized the conditions similarly:

“The workers are treated more as robots than human,” Markus Hoffmann-Achenbach, an organizer for Ver.di at the Amazon warehouse in the city of Werne, said by email. He was on his way to Seattle to participate in the demonstration.

“As a worldwide company,” Mr. Hoffmann-Achenbach added, “Amazon should treat their workers fairly and with respect in every country. The solidarity of American unions and ver.di, the united services union of Germany, is a sign that social movements are not bounded by national borders and that in times of globalization, the workers worldwide stand together as one.”

Amazon officials seemed to have little sympathy for their own workers:

But Amazon’s German country head Ralf Kleber said the company had no intention of bowing to pressure from striking workers and was more worried about bad weather hurting Christmas deliveries, he told Reuters in an interview last month.

You can almost hear Kleber ending the sentence with a “bah” or a “humbug.”

Photo by jurvetson on Flickr

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Latino Workers 50% More Likely to Be Killed on Job from Falls, Exposure and Equipment Strikes

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that Latino workers are 50% more likely be killed on the job from falls and dangerous and unhealthy working conditions such as exposure to chemicals or being struck and killed by equipment than the overall workforce.

The CDC study also found that young Latino workers (18–24) are 50% more likely to be killed on the job for any reason that the overall workforce. Of the four groups studied—Latino, White, African  American and Native American/Asian/Pacific Islander, Latinos were the only ethnic and age group to have a so much greater death on the job rate.

The report examined workplace deaths from 2005 to 2009 and found the overall death rate was 3.7 per 100,000 workers, but for Latino workers it jumped to 4.4 per 100,000 workers.

Looking at specific causes of death, the report found that falls accounted 0.5 deaths for every 100,000 workers, but for Latino workers the rate was 0.9. A recent study by the Center for Popular Democracy found that in New York State Latino and immigrant workers suffered 60% of fatal worksite falls. Read more here.

The CDC study found that deaths because of exposure to dangerous substances such as chemicals or dangerous conditions such as excessive heat were 0.3 overall and 0.5 for Latino workers. The rate for workers killed by being struck or caught by equipment was 0.9 for Latinos and 0.5 overall.

The study concludes:

These findings highlight the importance of preventing work-related deaths. All workers, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or immigrant status, are afforded equal protection under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Furthering a culture in which occupational safety and health is recognized and valued as a fundamental component of economic growth and prosperity can play an important role in promoting health equity….This information can be used to improve intervention efforts by developing programs that better meet the needs of the increasing diversity of the U.S. workforce.

Click here for the full report.

For more information on Latino worker deaths and injuries, see the 2013 edition of the AFL-CIO report Death on the Job.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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For Mainers, Attacks on Workers Compensation Is A Teachable Moment

by Matt Caston – Augusta, Maine

For the past week, Working America canvassers have been knocking on doors and calling our members in order to defeat a bill that would endanger Maine’s Workers’ Compensation System, which is currently one of the best in the country.

As I write this, the entire Working America team is currently stuffed into an overflow room where injured workers wait to testify in opposition to this legislation. One reason we’re in here is the sheer number of injured workers who have come to the state capital in Augusta to share their stories. The other reason? The large group of insurance industry representatives, who have rallied as a buffer to our testimonies, are taking up a healthy amount of the seating.

The public hearings for “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Workers’ Compensation” are being held today in the midst of a legislative session where we have seen repeated attacks on workers.

As we sit here with workers who have been severely injured on the job and even permanently disabled from the workplace, it’s appalling to think that this bill would deny many of these people long-term support for permanent impairment in the workplace due to severe physical and mental trauma.

In spite of the odds against us, I’ve been buoyed by the amount of support that we’ve encountered from our members;  going door to door, answering our calls, and getting fired up enough to be here with us during the testimony.

Larry, one of our members who came to our Labor Lobby Day last Thursday, remarked to me: “I had always viewed unions as a classically Democratic institution; at least that’s how the media and my party seem to portray it. I’ve learned a lot today about a side to these issues and unions that I never knew before. It’s interesting that there is a whole side that you don’t even hear.” He now sits with us in solidarity during workers’ testimony, eager to learn more about an issue of which he was only exposed to one side.

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Ohio Right to Work Could Go to 2012 Ballot

When it comes to gathering signatures, Ohio working families hold the record. Last year, in response to the blitzkrieg passage of the union-busting Senate Bill 5, Ohioans across the state gathered 1.3 million signatures to get a repeal measure on the 2011 ballot, over six times the required number.

Anti-worker conservatives have some big shoes to fill.

Even though the unpopular Gov. John Kasich doesn’t want to touch the so-called “right to work” issue, conservative leaders are going ahead with it anyway. Earlier this month, Attorney General Mike DeWine approved language for a “right to work” amendment. That means organizers now have to gather 385,253 valid signatures from at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties. To have a buffer, anti-worker organizers want at least 600,000 signatures.

In a state that just overwhelmingly smashed Senate Bill 5, does such an effort have a chance? One of the measure’s backers, Ohio Liberty Council’s Chris Littleton, was trying to downplay expectations. “Ohio will become a right to work state,” said Littleton last Friday, “I just can’t tell you a timeline.”

But just like with Senate Bill 5, there’s going to be a lot of money flowing into Ohio to try and convince people that such a law would be good for the economy, even though in 22 other states such laws have led to depressed wages and unsafe workplaces. With neighboring Indiana ramming through a right to work law earlier this year, anti-worker forces may feel that they have momentum on their side.

One of the best metaphors for why “right to work” laws are bad for all workers comes from the Union Review’s John Crumbler, who calls them “right to shirk laws.” Say you had to cross a river to get to work in the morning. If there was a bridge and it had a toll booth, everyone who used the bridge would have to pay the toll – otherwise you could use a ferry. But what if you were told the toll was optional? Of course people would opt not to pay the toll if they could cross the bridge either way. Soon, the bridge would fall into a disrepair and collapse, because no one would be paying for its upkeep – which is what the ferry companies wanted in the first place.

If you’re in Ohio, or you have friends and family there, make sure they know about this “right to work” effort and make sure they decline to sign this petition. Make sure they know the facts about what “right to work” laws do to wages, to workers’ rights, to women, to minorities, and to workplace safety.

Workers in 22 states are already suffering under these laws. Don’t let Ohio join them. Don’t let the “ferry companies” win this one.

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Workers Memorial Day

It’s Workers Memorial Day—a time to honor, or at least stop and think about, the workers who have lost their lives on the job. While the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) has greatly decreased the number of workplace deaths and injuries in the 40 years since it was passed, there are still too many.

Big explosions and disasters draw headlines and attention, but many more workers lose their lives in ways that don’t get widespread notice—but are no less painful for their families and friends.

The AFL-CIO’s Death on the Job (PDF) report finds that:

In 2009, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,340 workers were killed on the job—an average of 12 workers every day—and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases. More than 4.1 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but this number understates the problem. The true toll of job injuries is two to three times greater—about 8 million to12 million job injuries and illnesses each year.

The risks are not evenly distributed. Workers are much more likely to be killed in some states than others:

The risk of job fatalities and injuries varies widely from state to state, in part due to the mix of industries. Montana led the country with the highest fatality rate (10.8 per 100,000), followed by Louisiana and North Dakota (7.2), Wyoming (6.8) and Nebraska (6.1). The lowest state fatality rate (0.9 per 100,000) was reported in New Hampshire, followed by Rhode Island (1.4), Arizona (1.8), Massachusetts (1.8) and Delaware (1.8). This compares with a preliminary national fatality rate of 3.3 per 100,000 workers in 2009.

And Latino workers have an increased risk of fatalities: 3.7 per 100,000 workers as opposed to that national rate of 3.3.

The penalties for violations and fatalities are too low to deter employers from risking their workers’ lives:

For FY 2010, the median initial total penalty in fatality cases investigated by federal OSHA was $7,000, with a median penalty after settlement of $5,600.

That’s in cases where someone died. The average penalty for a serious violation of the law just on its own was $1,052 for federal OSHA.

Penalties also vary state by state:

Oregon had the lowest median current penalty for fatality investigations, with $1,500 in penalties assessed, followed by Wyoming ($2,063) and Kentucky ($2,275). New Hampshire had the highest median current penalty ($142,000), followed by Minnesota ($26,050) and Missouri ($21,000).

Criminal investigations? Forget about it:

Since 1970, only 84 cases have been prosecuted, with defendants serving a total of 89 months in jail. During this time there were more than 360,000 worker deaths. By comparison, in FY 2010 there were 346 criminal enforcement cases initiated under federal environmental laws and 289 defendants charged, resulting in 72 years of jail time and $41 million in penalties—more cases, fines and jail time in one year than during OSHA’s entire history.

On Workers Memorial Day, the best way to honor workers who have lost their lives on the job is to fight to prevent future workplace fatalities. That means more funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration. More inspectors checking to make sure workplaces are safe, not less. More prosecutions and higher penalties, to give employers added reason to think twice about committing safety violations (and how sad is it that workers’ lives are not enough reason). And passing the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PDF) to update OSHA and fill some of its gaps.

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