Unions and other worker safety advocates are voicing concerns about a troubling increase in workplace deaths in the United States. On average 13 workplace fatalities occur each day, according to the AFL-CIO, a federation of labor unions. Approximately 50,000 workers died of work-related diseases in 2010.
Reversing an overall trend of decreasing worker deaths since the 1970s, nearly 5,000 workers died while on the job in 2011, a 3.1 percent increase from the year before. The AFL-CIO has expressed concern that workplace injuries and deaths are on the rise despite high unemployment. If the construction industry was active, the numbers may have been even worse.
In Massachusetts, 58 workers died while on the job in 2011. The AFL-CIO report found that many of the deaths were caused by preventable accidents. Falls caused one fifth of the occupational fatalities. Motor vehicle accidents caused 12 deaths and in six of the accidents a worker was struck or crushed by a vehicle.
Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, report co-author and executive director of Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, expressed frustration that many of these accidents have been claiming worker lives for many years. Safety measures need to be put in place to reduce the risk of fatal falls and motor vehicle accidents.
Government Enforcement Efforts
The AFL-CIO is stepping up pressure to increase government enforcement and implementation of new laws and regulations to improve worker safety.
Critics say the government is failing to punish violators and take regulatory action. Anti-regulatory officials in the Obama administration have slowed efforts to take action. Further, the relatively small number of inspectors in federal and state agencies makes it difficult, if not impossible, to ensure workplace safety across the country.
For example, a rule that would regulate crystalline silica, a dangerous particle, remains unsigned after fifteen years of development. Worker advocates say each day increases the risk to workers who breathe the substance.
While regulations are held up, such as the silica rule, workers continue to suffer injury while on the job. More government inspectors may also be needed to stop the increasing number of workers killed in unsafe workplace conditions.
Source: Huffington Post, “AFL-CIO: More Workers Killed On Job While Regulations Languish,” Dave Jamieson, May 3, 2012.