True U.S. worker death toll likely much higher than official figures
Despite significant advancements in workplace health and safety over the past four decades, 150 people are killed on the job or die from job-related illnesses and diseases every day in the U.S, according to the 2014 edition of the AFL-CIO’s annual Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.
That number comes from combining the 4,628 workers who were killed on the job in 2012 (the latest figures available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), and the estimated 50,000 who died from occupational diseases.
The union says it’s low.
“Nearly 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but many injuries are not reported,” according to the AFL-CIO, which estimates that the true toll is likely two to three times greater -- or 7.6 million to 11.4 million injuries a year.
Which state is the deadliest?
From Death on the Job:
North Dakota is the nation’s most deadly state for workers. Its fatality rate of 17.7 deaths per 100,000 workers is five times the national average; one of the highest every reported; and has more than doubled since 2007. From 2011 to 2102, the number of workers killed on the job in North Dakota jumped from 25 to 64.
In mining and oil extraction, North Dakota’s death rate is more than six times the national average and its construction job fatality rates is nearly 10 times the national average.
Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and West Virginia are the next deadliest states while Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Washington State and California had the lowest fatality rates.
Latino workers, especially those born outside of the United States, continue to face higher rates of workplace fatalities and accounted for 748 of 2012’s on-the-job deaths.
OSHA, MSHA understaffed
In the area of job safety enforcement, the report says OSHA and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) remain underfunded and understaffed. In fact, at current staffing levels, it would take OSHA 139 years to inspect the nation’s 8 million workplaces. In addition, current civil and criminal penalties are far too low to deter employers from violating the law.
The report says the Obama administration has appointed pro-worker safety and health advocates to head the agencies, and increasing funding, staffing and stepped up enforcement, but calls progress in issuing new protections "slow and disappointing" and says the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has blocked and delayed important rules. "Since 2009, only four major final OSHA safety and health standards have been issued."
Last year’s release of a tougher new rule on silica dust exposure and last month's issuance of a final standard to reduce coal miners’ exposure to coal dust were hailed as signs of a thaw in the regulatory freeze.
"Several other long overdue rules remain stalled, including OSHA rules on confined space entry in construction, beryllium, combustible dust and infectious diseases; and MSHA rules on proximity detection/collision warning systems on mining equipment to warn of dangerously nearby workers or other equipment."
Time is running out
"The time for the Obama administration to act on these rules is running out," according to the report, which calls for:
- Increased funding for OSHA and MSHA to enhanced oversight of worksites and timely and effective enforcement.
- Remedying the widespread problem of injury underreporting and prohibiting employer policies and practices that discourage the reporting of injuries through discipline or other means.
- Addressing the increased risk of fatalities and injuries faced by Latino and immigrant workers and rise of fatalities and injuries in the oil and gas extraction industry.
- Strengthening the the Mine Safety and Health Act must be strengthened to give MSHA more authority to enhance enforcement against repeated violators and to shut down dangerous mines.
- Congressional passage of the Protecting America’s Workers Act to extend the law’s coverage to workers currently excluded, strengthen civil and criminal penalties for violations, enhance anti-discrimination protections and strengthen the rights of workers, unions and victims.
"When Congress votes to weaken worker protections or defund critical programs and when big corporations marginalize and de-emphasize worker safety, they insult the memory of all those workers who have died while fighting to attain the American Dream, says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.”
Click here to read the report, which includes state-by-state profiles of workers’ safety and health and features state and national 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.