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Death on the Job Report

This 2016 edition of  Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect  marks the 25th year the AFL-CIO has produced a report on the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers.

More than 532,000 workers now can say their lives have been saved since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which promised workers in this country the right to a safe job. Since that time, workplace safety and health conditions have improved but at the same time some conditions have gotten worse and too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death.

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The High Toll of Job Injuries, Illnesses and Deaths

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In 2014, 4,821 workers were killed on the job in the United States, and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases, resulting in a loss of 150 workers each day from hazardous working conditions.
Older workers are at a greater risk. Thirty-five percent of all fatalities occurred in workers age 55 or older, and workers 65 or older have three times the risk of dying on the job as other workers.
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The oil and gas industry remains very dangerous--the fatality rate for oil and gas extraction is nearly five times the national average. States with prominent oil and gas industries continue to be among the most dangerous states to work.
Latino workers continue to be at higher risk than other workers. There were 804 Latino workers killed on the job in 2014, 64% of whom were immigrant workers.
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Workplace violence is a serious and growing problem for workers, especially for health care professionals and women, who suffered 66% of the lost-time injuries related to workplace violence.

Job Safety Oversight and Enforcement

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) resources are still too few and declining with only 1,840 federal and state inspectors to inspect 8 million workplaces. This means there are enough inspectors for federal OSHA to inspect workplaces once every 145 years, on average, and state OSHA plans have enough to inspect workplaces once every 97 years.

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The current level of federal and state OSHA inspectors provides one inspector for every 74,760 workers.
Despite a new law that will allow OSHA to increase its penalties for workplace safety and health violations, penalties are still too weak to be an effective deterrent for some employers and large corporations.

Regulatory Action

After years of delay, the Obama administration has moved forward to issue key safety and health regulations:

  • In 2016, OSHA issued a final silica standard to reduce dust exposures in general industry, maritime and construction sectors. This rule will prevent more than 600 deaths and 1,000 cases of silicosis each year.
  • In 2015, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued a final rule to reduce coal dust exposure limits and require continuous monitoring of dust in underground coal mines. This rule will help prevent thousands of new cases of black lung.
  • Many other rules are long overdue, including OSHA rules on injury reporting, beryllium, combustible dust and infectious disease, and MSHA rules on proximity detection for mobile equipment and silica.

Much Work Remains to Be Done

Very simply, workers need more job safety and health protection.

  • The serious safety and health problems faced by Latino, immigrant and aging workers must be given increased attention.
  • Funding and staffing at job safety agencies should be increased.
  • Ergonomic hazards, infectious diseases and chemical exposures pose serious risks to workers, but are largely unregulated.
  • Workplace violence is a growing and serious threat—particularly to women workers and workers in the health care industry—that necessitates enhanced enforcement and development of an OSHA workplace violence standard.
  • The escalating fatalities and injuries in the oil and gas extraction industry demand intensive and comprehensive intervention.
  • Employer policies and practices that discourage the reporting of injuries through discipline or other means must be prohibited.
  • Congress should pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act to extend the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s coverage to workers who are currently excluded, strengthen civil and criminal penalties for violations, enhance antidiscrimination protections, and strengthen the rights of workers, unions and victims.

The nation must renew the commitment to protect workers from injury, disease and death and make this a high priority. We must demand that employers meet their responsibilities to protect workers and hold them accountable if they put workers in danger. Only then can the promise of safe jobs for all of America’s workers be fulfilled.

Read the full report:  Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, 2016

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