AFL-CIO Death on the Job Study Reveals Dangerous Workplaces, Inadequate Enforcement

WASHINGTON, D.C. - 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.  As the country reels from the loss of the 29 miners at the Massey Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, the report shows that there were a total of 5,214 fatal workplace injuries in 2008.  Because underreporting of workplace-related injuries and illness remains a persistent problem, the true toll is estimated to be as many as three times the 4.6 million reported incidents.

On average, 14 workers were fatally injured each day in 2008.  This statistic does not include death from occupational diseases, which claims the lives of an estimated 50,000 - 60,000 more workers each year.  The report shows that Latino and Hispanic workers continue to face much higher risks of death on the job.  In 2008, the fatality rate among these workers was 4.2 per 100,000 workers, 13.5 percent higher than the fatal injury rate for all U.S. workers.

This year's report also examined job safety enforcement in cases of worker deaths, finding that the median penalty in fatalities investigated by federal OSHA and the OSHA state plans was just $5,000.    Utah had the lowest median penalty in fatality cases with a paltry $1,250 in penalties assessed, followed by Washington with a median penalty of $1,600 and Kentucky with a median penalty of $2,000.

Both OSHA and MSHA are moving to step up enforcement against employers with repeated violations, and the Administration has increased the job safety budget and is hiring  hundreds of new inspectors.  However, as the Death on the Job report reveals, there are only 2,218 OSHA inspectors (885 federal and 1,333 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 63 years.  And, as the recent wave of workplace tragedies makes clear, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and Mine Safety and Health Act are still too weak to deter future violations.

"In less than 3 months time, 42 workers have been killed in 3 major industrial.disasters – at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine, the Tesoro Refinery in Washington State and the Kleen Energy plant in Connecticut.  And eleven workers are missing and likely dead following last week's catastrophic explosion at the Transocean oil rig off Louisiana," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.  "There's no question that eight years of neglect and inaction by the Bush Administration seriously eroded safety and health protections, and put workers' lives in danger.  Wall Street was allowed to do as it pleased with little oversight or accountability.  And now, with 11 million jobs and thousands of lives lost, we're fighting to create the jobs—good jobs, safe jobs—that America's working families so desperately need."

Also in conjunction with Workers Memorial Day, on Tuesday, April 27, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is holding a full committee hearing examining safety and health conditions and protections under MSHA and OSHA.  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 430 at the Dirksen Senate Office Building at 2:00pm.

On April 28, the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on legislation to strengthen the anti-discrimination protections and victims rights under the OSHAct.  AFL-CIO General Counsel Lynn Rhinehart will testify at the hearing, which will take place in Room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building at 10:00am.

AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler will speak at the dedication of the National Labor College's recently completed Workers Memorial on April 28 at 2:00pm.  She will be joined by David Michaels, Assistant Secretary for Labor for Occupational Safety and Health at OSHA, and United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts Jr.

For a copy of the AFL-CIO Death on the Job report, go to http://www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/memorial/doj_2010.cfm

Source: American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations