Monday, April 27, 2009

Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect

The nation’s workplace safety laws and penalties are too weak to effectively protect workers, according to the new AFL-CIO annual report released today: Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect. There were a total of 5,657 fatal workplace injuries in 2007, a slight decrease from the year before, according to the AFL-CIO’s analysis of the newly available data.

In 2007, employers reported more than 4 million workers having a work-related injury or illness, more than 10,950 each day. Due to the impact of under reporting of injuries and illness, the true toll may be as high as 12 million workers experiencing an injury or illness in 2007.

On average, 15 workers were fatally injured each day in 2007. This statistic does not include deaths from occupational diseases, which claim the lives of an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 more workers each year.

This year’s report also examined job safety enforcement in cases of worker deaths, finding that the average national total penalty in fatality investigations was just $11,311. Utah had the lowest average penalty in fatality cases, with an average $1,106 penalty assessed, followed by South Carolina, with an average penalty of $1,383 per fatality case, and Louisiana with an average penalty of $1,453.

“After eight years of neglect from the Bush administration, workers are in dire need of a change in our nation’s workplace safety and health laws,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “Our nation’s inadequate workplace safety net has left far too many workers in danger of death, injury or disease that could otherwise be prevented. Working people are looking to the new President to strengthen the OSHAct with tougher civil and criminal penalties, increase funding for OSHA to provide greater oversight, and fully implement the provisions of the MINER Act.”

Also in conjunction with Workers Memorial Day, on Tuesday, April 28, the House Committee on education and Labor will hold a hearing to investigate whether OSHA’s penalties are adequate to deter health and safety violations. The average nationwide penalty for a serious OSHA violation is currently only $921. Peg Seminario, Director of Safety and Health at the AFL-CIO, will testify before the committee, arguing that the OSHAct is too weak to protect workers and to deter employers from violating the law. The hearing will take place in Room 2175 at the Rayburn House Office Building at 10:00 a.m.

The Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Worker Safety will hold a hearing on “Introducing Meaningful Incentives for Safe Workplaces and Meaningful Roles for Victims and Their Families” at the same time in Room 430 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building on April 28.
Newly appointed Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, will attend the National Labor College’s Workers Memorial Day ceremony at 2:30pm on April 28 for a formal groundbreaking and bricklaying for a new Workers Memorial to be constructed at the center of the campus. She will be joined by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, NLC President William E. Scheuerman, elected officials, union leaders, workers and the general public. For more information, call 301-431-5406.

In 2007, more than four million workers were injured and 5,657 workers were killed due to job hazards. Another 50,000-60,000 died due to occupational diseases. On an average day, 15 workers lose their lives as a result of workplace injuries and disease, and another 10,959 are injured.

The report also shows that Latino and Hispanic workers continue to face much higher risks of death on the job. In 2007, 937 Hispanic or Latino workers were killed on the job. The fatality rate among these workers was 4.6 per 100,000 workers, 21 percent higher than the fatal injury rate for all U.S. workers. Since 1992, the number of fatalities among Latino workers has increased by 76 percent from 533 fatal injuries in 1992. Among foreign-born workers, job fatalities have increased by 59 percent, from 635 to 1,009 deaths in 2007.

The Death on the Job report also reveals problems with the “safety net” of regulatory and oversight bodies such as OSHA. There are only 2,043 OSHA inspectors (799 federal and 1,244 state inspectors) for the approximately 130 million workers in the United States today. At this rate, federal OSHA inspectors are only able to inspect workplaces, on average, once every 137 years, and state OSHA inspectors on average once every 66 years. OSHA’s capacity to oversee and inspect the nation’s workplaces is at the lowest level in the agency’s history.

For a copy of the AFL-CIO Death on the Job report, go to

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