National Report Highlights Worker Fatalities, Need for Stronger Workplace Safety Measures
To Commemorate Workers’ Memorial Day, Workplace Safety Group Pushes for Reforms for Temporary, Immigrant, Energy Workers, Among Others
More than 4,600 workers were killed on the job in 2011 – the latest year for which we have complete data – spanning many ages, industries, and causes of death, an analysis by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) has found.
The report, “Preventable Deaths: The Tragedy of Workplace Fatalities,” released today, pairs government data with heart-breaking stories about worker fatalities to portray the need for worker health and safety reforms.
The report comes just before Workers’ Memorial Day, which falls on April 28 and commemorates workers who have been injured or killed on the job. National COSH this year has expanded the commemoration to a Workers’ Memorial Week of Action, consisting of events, actions, reports, and other ceremonies across the country throughout the week of April 22-28. A list of events is available at www.workersmemorialweek.org.
“Each worker killed is a tragic loss to the community of family, friends and co-workers – and the worst part is, these deaths were largely preventable,” said Tom O’Connor, executive director of National COSH. “Simply by following proven safety practices and complying with OSHA standards, many of these more than 4,600 deaths could have been avoided. But as companies decry regulations and emphasize profits over safety, workers pay the ultimate price.”
For example, the death of 21-year-old Lawrence Daquan “Day” Davis on his first day on the job as a temporary worker at the Bacardi Bottling Company in Jacksonville, Fla., highlights the need for adequate training and protection of temporary workers – which now comprise 25 percent of the workforce – from workplace hazards.
Massachusetts recently passed the Temporary Worker Right to Know Law, implemented this year, which requires temporary staffing agencies to give each worker a written job order, providing information that every worker has a right to expect before going to a job, and protects temporary workers against retaliation.
“There’s been a meteoric growth in temporary workers who labor in our most dangerous jobs – often with scant information about hazards, safety training needed, even the name of their employer,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) and coordinator of the Reform Employment Agency Law (REAL) Coalition, which worked with Massachusetts lawmakers in passing this critical legislation. “This law will bring essential sunlight to the shadows where employer abuses have taken place, and help ensure fairness for workers and employers who follow the state’s labor laws. The Massachusetts law can serve as a model for others states wanting to enact similar legislation to protect our nation’s temporary workers.”
The report also points to the alarming rate of immigrant worker fatalities in comparison to native-born workers. More than two Latino workers were killed on the job every day in 2011, many of whom were immigrant workers.
“Immigrant workers toil away in some of the most dangerous jobs in the most dangerous industries in attempts to live a better life in the U.S., and unfortunately, a disproportionate number of immigrant workers perish on the job,” said Jessica E. Martinez, assistant director of National COSH. “We as a nation must pass comprehensive immigration reform, which will help immigrant workers – regardless of their legal status – to come out of the shadows and speak out about unsafe conditions in the workplace.”
Other issues discussed in the report include:
- Health and safety for workers in the energy sector;
- The prevalence of workplace violence;
- The dangers on the job for young agricultural workers;
- Fines from regulators for workplace safety violations so low they are unlikely to act as a deterrent;
- Heat stress for agricultural, construction, and other workers; and
- Whistleblower protection and retaliation issues.
Case studies are provided about each of these topics.
The report points to the following reforms that are needed:
- Meaningful immigration reform, which would bring undocumented workers out of the shadows and give them protections afforded to all workers.
- A stronger Occupational Safety and Health Act, which would make felony charges possible when repeat or willful violations result in a worker's death or serious injury, and would increase the penalties OSHA can impose on negligent employers.
- An Injury and Illness Prevention Standard, which would require employers to find and fix health and safety hazards in the workplace.
- State legislation to protect temporary workers on the job, which can be modeled after Massachusetts’ new Temporary Workers Right to Know Law.
- State legislation to implement minimum penalty amounts for serious safety citations related to workplace fatalities, which can be modeled after Minnesota’s legislation that requires its state OSHA program to levy fines of no less than $25,000 for every serious violation and, in cases involving repeat or willful violations, no less than $50,000.
- And many other reforms reviewed in the report.
“With nearly 13 workers being killed on the job every day, it is essential to enact reforms to ensure that workers make it home safely at the end of every shift,” said Barbara Rahke, executive director of the Philadelphia Project on Occupational Safety and Health (PhilaPOSH) and a National COSH board member. “Together, we can point to regulatory and employer shortcomings and push for reforms to make workplaces safer – for all workers in all industries.”
Other state reports will be released this week in Massachusetts, California, Tennessee and North Carolina to commemorate Workers’ Memorial Day.
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