Although workplace safety and health conditions have improved since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970, a state-by-state profile of occupational safety released yesterday by the AFL-CIO shows that many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death.

“Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” cites Bureau of Labor statistics showing that 4,340 workers were killed on the job in 2009 -- an average of 12 workers every day. An additional 50,000 died from occupational diseases.

The annual report notes that the risk of job fatalities and injuries varies widely from state to state, in part due to the mix of industries. Montana has the highest fatality rate in the country (10.8 per 100,000 workers), and New Hampshire the lowest, with 0.9 deaths per 100,000.

Other states in the high end of the spectrum were Louisiana and North Dakota (7.2), Wyoming (6.8) and Nebraska (6.1), while states with comparatively low fatality rates were Rhode Island (1.4), Arizona (1.8), Massachusetts (1.8) and Delaware (1.8).

In 2009, the national fatality rate was 3.3 per 100,000 workers.

The AFL-CIO report said Latino workers continue to be at increased risk of job fatalities, with a fatality rate of 3.7 per 100,000 workers in 2009 – although that actual number was down from 2008.

The report’s authors called inspections by OSHA and state OSHA plans “woefully inadequate.” The federal OSHA and its state-level counterparts have a combined 2,218 inspectors for the 8 million workplaces under the OSH Act’s jurisdiction – an average of one inspector for every 57,984 workers.

In addition, OSHA penalties were deemed too low to deter violations. “The average penalty for a serious violation of the law in FY 2010 was $1,052 for federal OSHA and $858 for the state plans,” according to the report. “Even in cases of worker fatalities, penalties are incredibly weak. 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. For the OSHA state plans, the initial median total penalty was $5,188, reduced to $4,543 after settlement.”

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).

”Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect” is available at http://www.aflcio.org.