Just in time for Workers Memorial Day, April 28, the AFL-CIO has released its annual report, “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.” The figures in this year’s comprehensive look at the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers:
- In 2017, 5,147 workers lost their lives on the job as a result of traumatic injuries, according to fatality data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Each day in this country, an average of 14 workers die because of job injuries.
- An estimated 95,000 workers die each year from occupational diseases, which receive less attention, because most are not detected until years after workers are exposed to toxic chemicals.
- All total, on average 275 workers die each day due to job injuries and illnesses.
- Nearly 3.5 million workers across all industries, including state and local government, had work-related injuries and illnesses that were reported by employers, with 2.8 million injuries and illnesses reported in private industry.
The AFL-CIO thinks those numbers are actually low, due to limitations in the current injury reporting system and widespread under-reporting of workplace injuries. "The true toll is estimated to be two to three times greater—or 7.0 million to 10.5 million injuries and illnesses a year."
The cost of these injuries and illnesses: an estimated $250 billion to $330 billion a year.
The 2019 edition marks the 28th year the AFL-CIO has produced the report, which features national and state information on workplace fatalities, injuries, illnesses, the number and frequency of workplace inspections, penalties, funding, staffing and public employee coverage under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. It also includes information on the state of mine safety and health.
Nearly 50 years ago, in 1970, Congress enacted the OSH Act, promising workers in this country the right to a safe job.
“More than 594,000 workers now can say their lives have been saved since the passage of the OSH Act,” according to the AFL-CIO. “Since that time, workplace safety and health conditions have improved. But too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death as chemical plant explosions, major fires, construction collapses and other preventable workplace tragedies continue to occur. Workplace violence is a growing threat. Many other workplace hazards kill and disable thousands of workers each year.”
The union takes aim at the Trump administration’s de-regulatory agenda:
“Through executive orders, legislative action, and delays and rollbacks in regulations, the Trump administration has sought to repeal or weaken many Obama administration rules. For the first two years of the administration, with Republicans in control of Congress, there was little oversight and only a limited ability to block these regulatory attacks and rollbacks. As a result, important safety and health protections have been repealed or weakened. There has been little action to address hazards like workplace violence that need attention and new regulation.”
Cutbacks in OSHA inspections and significant personnel reductions at both OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration are noted. At OSHA, the number of job safety inspectors is at its lowest level since the 1970s.
Also criticized: Trump’s nomination of people who “have records of opposing enforcement and regulatory actions,” such as coal industry executive David Zatezalo to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration and FedEx Ground VP Scott Mugno to head OSHA (Mugno has yet to be confirmed).