April 28, 2011 at 3:18 pm #2293
Workers’ Memorial Day: Death on the Job: AFL-CIO Releases Annual Report
Apr 28, 2011 10:02 AM, By Sandy Smith
Think about it: An average of 12 workers are killed per day. If those 12 people all died in the same workplace incident – or in some type of tragedy in our hometown – it would make a significant impact on us. But unless you’re a co-worker, friend or family member of one of those 12 workers killed across the country today, those deaths will slip past with relatively little notice.
Each year in honor of Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28, the AFL-CIO releases its annual Death on the Job report. This year’s report, “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” reveals that in 2009, 4,340 workers were killed on the job, while an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 4.1 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but due to underreporting, the AFL-CIO speculates the true toll of job injuries is two to three times greater – about 8 million to 12 million job injuries and illnesses each year.
2011 is an important year for workplace safety efforts: It marks the 40 anniversary of OSHA, the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Society of Safety Engineers. Still, says the AFL-CIO, the job of protecting workers remains unfinished.
This past year marked a series of workplace tragedies that stunned the country. An explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that is owned by Massey Energy killed 29 coal miners, making it the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years. An explosion at the Kleen Energy Plant in Middletown, Conn., killed six workers and another at the Tesoro Refinery in Washington State killed seven workers. The BP/Transocean Gulf Coast oil rig explosion killed 11 workers and caused a massive environmental and economic disaster.
Debilitating injuries and deaths cost the nation an estimated $159 billion to $318 billion a year, based upon data from the latest Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. According to the Death on the Job report, in 2009, Montana led the country with the highest rate of worker fatalities in the last year, with Louisiana, North Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska following close behind. The lowest fatality rates were reported in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Delaware.
The report examines the role of OSHA 40 years after its creation. It finds that OSHA remains underfunded and understaffed. “The number of workplace inspectors is woefully inadequate,” notes the report. “The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the state OSHA plans have a total of 2,218 inspectors (925 federal and 1,293 state inspectors) to inspect the 8 million workplaces under the OSH Act’s jurisdiction.”
This means, according to the AFL-CIO, that federal OSHA can inspect workplaces on average once every 129 years; the state OSHA plans can inspect them once every 67 years. The current level of federal and state OSHA inspectors provides one inspector for every 57,984 workers.
The report also takes issue with civil and criminal penalties tied to OSHA violations. OSHA penalties for serious violations are $1,052 per violation for federal OSHA inspections and $858 for state plans. Even in cases involving worker fatalities, the median total penalty is $5,600 for federal OSHA and $4,543 for the OSHA state plans. Oregon had the lowest median penalty for fatality investigations while New Hampshire had the highest.
The report also noted the striking difference between the numbers for criminal prosecutions for violations of environmental laws versus those for violations of workplace safety laws. The report noted that 239 defendants were charged in 346 criminal enforcement cases initiated under federal environmental laws in FY 2010. Only 84 criminal cases related to worker deaths have been prosecuted in the 40 years since OSHA was created.
“Our work is never done when it comes to workplace safety – the tragedies in the last year at Massey Energy’s Big Branch mine and the BP Gulf Coast oil rig have shown us that,” says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “This Workers Memorial Day, we need to get one thing straight: Safety regulations don’t kill jobs, but unsafe jobs do kill workers.”
The report shows that Latino workers continue to be at increased risk of job fatalities. Latino workers had a fatality rate of 3.7 per 100,000 workers in FY 2009, compared with 3.3 per 100,000 in the general population. Over half of those fatalities were among workers born outside the United States.
The 2011 AFL-CIO “Death on the Job” report is available online at http://www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/memorial/upload/dotj_2011.pdf.
April 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm #5126
I noticed several news items touting OSHA’s celebrating its 40th aniversary & touting its workplace efforts.
Unfortunately this news article covering AFLCIO’s annual report is one few items showing just how ineffective the safety program really is:
-at least 12 workers/day are killed in workplace
-OSHA is greatly underfunded & understaffed they can only inspect workplaces on Fed basis once/167 years and at state level once/67 years!
-only 84 cases in worker deaths have actually been proscuted over OSHA’s 40 years
-OSHA fines are joke averaging $5600/case at Fed level & $4500/case State level
April 29, 2011 at 11:59 am #5123
FYI – here is alternate view on OSHA effecitveness from EHS magazine news item on OSHA 40 year timeline:
Four Decades of OSHA: A Timeline
Apr 27, 2011 3:48 PM, By Laura Walter
On April 28, OSHA reaches a 40-year milestone. Since it was founded 4 decades ago, the agency established a range of safety and health regulations to protect the American work force; reduced workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities; and initiated a national conversation about occupational health and safety.
April 28, 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of OSHAs first day on the job a job that has delivered remarkable progress for our nation, said OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels. Today, workplaces in America are far safer than 40 years ago. Our progress gives us hope and confidence that OSHA will continue to make a lasting difference in the lives of our nations 130 million workers and their families.
When considering some of the most significant standards OSHA has introduced in its 40-year history, Peg Seminario, AFL-CIOs director of safety and health, singled out the agencys asbestos, lead and benzene standards. These standards, she said, addressed widespread hazards that were killing thousands of workers.
By setting these standards, the agency brought a focus and attention to workplace safety and health and put obligations on employers to address those problems, she told EHS Today. Those standards not only had an impact on that particular hazard, they helped develop a whole capacity to deal with a variety of safety and health problems in the workplace.
OSHA History Timeline
The following timeline includes some of OSHAs most significant workplace health and safety milestones in the last 40 years:
Dec. 29, 1970 The OSH Act Is Signed into Law: President Richard M. Nixon signed the bipartisan Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 in response to dangerous working conditions across the nation and as a culmination of decades of reform.
April 28, 1971 OSHA Is Established: OSHA is officially established to ensure safe working conditions for American workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.
June 7, 1972 OSHA Issues Its First Standard Asbestos: OSHA issues a standard limiting workplace exposure to asbestos fibers to protect workers from lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. Significant asbestos exposure is now rare in American workplaces.
Nov. 23, 1972 Construction Safety Standards: OSHA issues standards to protect construction workers operating electric power transmission and distribution equipment, aerial lifts and helicopters.
Oct. 22, 1976 Coke Oven Emissions Standard: Coke oven emissions in steel production facilities contain numerous chemicals and have been associated with the development of lung cancer in exposed workers. This standard requires implementation of engineering controls and resulted in significant decreases in exposures.
Nov. 14, 1978 Lead Standard: Workplace lead exposures in general industry decrease significantly after OSHA issues a lead standard in 1978. Lead has long been recognized as a toxin that can cause damage to the kidney, nervous system and reproductive system. OSHA publishes a lead standard to protect workers in the construction industry in 1995.
Jan. 16, 1981 Hearing Conservation Standard: This standard requires that workers exposed to noise levels above 85 decibels are provided with hearing protection. It also requires employers to perform hearing tests on workers to monitor how these protection measures are working.
July 2, 1982 Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP): OSHA creates the VPP to recognize workplaces with exemplary safety and health management systems and encourage other employers to follow suit.
Dec. 3, 1984 Bhopal Disaster: The catastrophic release of the toxic chemical methyl isocyanate at Union Carbides plant in Bhopal, India, kills at least 3,800 immediately, results in thousands of additional deaths and affects half a million people. The disaster sparks worldwide concern, prompts OSHA to inspect all U.S. facilities manufacturing or processing this chemical, and leads OSHA to increase inspections of chemical plants.
Sept. 11, 1987 Benzene Standard: OSHA issues a revised standard to protect workers from benzene, a highly toxic chemical that causes leukemia.
Dec. 31, 1987 Protecting Grain Workers: Following a series of devastating grain elevator explosions, OSHA issues the grain handling standard to protect 155,000 workers in the grain industry from the risk of fire and explosion from highly combustible grain dust. Explosions have since been reduced by over 40 percent, and the number of workers killed by explosions fell by 70 percent.
Dec. 6, 1991 Bloodborne Pathogens Standard: OSHA protects 5.6 million workers exposed to the hazards of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B with this standard.
Jan. 14, 1993 Confined Spaces Standard: OSHA issues a standard requiring safe procedures and permits for entry into confined spaces, including underground vaults, tanks, storage bins, manholes, pits, silos, process vessels, and pipelines. The standard prevents more than 50 deaths and more than 5,000 serious injuries annually for the 1.6 million workers who enter confined spaces.
Sept. 11, 2001 OSHA Responds to the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks: OSHA sends staff to Ground Zero in New York City and the Pentagon to monitor worker exposures to hazards during cleanup and recovery operations and to fit test and distribute respirators.
March 23, 2005 BP Refinery Explosion: An explosion and fire at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, kills 15 workers and injures more than 160 others. In response, OSHA issues the largest fines in its history and initiates increased inspections in oil refineries across the country.
Nov. 15, 2007 Payment for Safety Equipment: OSHA confirms through a rule that employers must pay for most types of required PPE, such as earplugs, respirators and protective gloves.
Oct. 21, 2009 Deadly Dust Explosions: In the wake of several deadly industrial combustible dust explosions including the Feb. 7, 2008, explosion at the Imperial Sugar Refinery in Georgia that killed 14 and injured 30 others OSHA initiates rulemaking to address the fire and explosion hazards of combustible dust.
June 3, 2010 Injury and Illness Prevention Program Initiative: OSHA proposes an initiative to require employers to implement a systematic program to help them find the safety and health hazards in their workplace and fix them.
For a complete, interactive timeline of the agencys 40-year history, visit http://osha.gov/osha40/timeline.html.
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