Work hazards kill 150 every day in US – report

Reuters/Rebecca Cook
A new study by the AFL-CIO found that 4,585 workers were killed while at work in the US in 2013, and another 50,000 died from occupational diseases.

The report entitled “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect” found that while there had been some improvements in safety at work, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was weak and understaffed.

The President of the AFL-CIO said that the OSHA has enough staff and resources to inspect workplaces in the US just once in 140 years.

“America’s workers shouldn’t have to choose between earning a livelihood and risking their life, yet every day too many end up on the wrong end of that choice. Corporations are prospering while working people suffer because of corporate negligence and insufficient government oversight,” he said.

A huge 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were recorded but the real figure is thought to be far higher as many are not reported.

Latino workers were found to be the most at risk. The fatality rate among them increased in 2013 to 3.9 percent per 100,000 up from 3.7 percent in 2012. A total of 817 Latino workers were killed on the job in 2013.

Latinos working in grounds maintenance were among the most likely to have a fatal accident, with deaths due to tree trimming and pruning doubling since 2012.

North Dakota was found to be by far the most dangerous area of the US to work and the state’s job fatality rate was more than four times the national average.

One of the main reasons for the grim statistics the report found was poor government oversight.

The OCHA has just 1,882 inspectors for the whole of the US, one inspector for every 71,695 workers.

Penalties for employers are low. The average penalty for a fatality investigated by the OCHA was just $5,050 in 2014.

Persecutions are also low, since 1970 when the Occupational Safety and Health Act became law, just 88 cases have been prosecuted with defendants serving just 100 months total in jail.

The report notes that under the Bush administration work safety was completely neglected and under the Obama administration progress in making new protections law has been slow. Since 2009 only four OCHA safety and health standards have been issued.

The AFL-CIO calls on the Obama administration to finalize legislation, much of which the Republican dominated Congress is trying to block.

These include improvements to the Mine Safety and Health Act to give inspectors more authority to shut down dangerous mines.