Advocacy groups Construction

Safety advocates call for stronger protections during Workers’ Memorial Week

Workers Memorial
Photo: AFL-CIO

The AFL-CIO, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Safety Council are among the organizations renewing the call for improved worker protections as part of Workers’ Memorial Week (April 23-30).

Highlighted by Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28, the week honors the workers who lost their lives on the job.

About 150 U.S. workers die every day as a result of hazardous working conditions, the AFL-CIO noted in its annual report, Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect. Released April 26, the report shows that 4,836 workers died from workplace injuries in 2015, and an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 died from occupational diseases.

The national injury and illness rate in 2015 was 3.4 per 100,000 workers, unchanged from 2014. The fatality rate among Latino workers, however, was 4.0 per 100,000 workers – 18 percent higher than the national average. Workers 65 and older had a fatality rate of 9.4 per 100,000 workers, according to the report.

“Corporate negligence and weak safety laws have resulted in tragedy for an astonishing and unacceptable number of working families,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an April 26 press release. “Instead of working for stronger protections, too many Republican politicians in Washington, including the Trump administration, are trying to roll back commonsense regulations that enable workers to return home safely to their families. These are more than numbers; they are our brothers and sisters, and a reminder of the need to continue our fight for every worker to be safe on the job every day.”

Other findings included in the report:

  • The construction industry experienced 937 deaths, the highest among any industry.
  • Workplace violence-related deaths decreased to 703 in 2015 from 765 in 2014.
  • North Dakota had the highest fatality rate, with a total of 12.5 per 100,000 workers. Wyoming (12.0), Montana (7.5), Mississippi (6.8), Arkansas (5.8) and Louisiana (5.8) followed.

Meanwhile, National COSH on April 26 revealed its annual list of The Dirty Dozen, calling out U.S. companies that the organization claims have jeopardized worker safety.

“These companies are putting workers at risk, as well as their families and surrounding communities,” National COSH Co-Executive Director Jessica Martinez said during an April 26 press conference.

The report cites an OSHA estimate that each workplace fatality costs the U.S. economy $8.7 million when factors such as legal costs, medical costs, lost productivity and new worker training are taken into account. A panel that included former OSHA deputy assistant Jordan Barab discussed the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts for OSHA and other safety agencies.

“You have the right to a safe workplace, and it doesn’t matter who the president is,” Barab said during the panel.

The National Safety Council marked Workers’ Memorial Day by introducing the results of a survey that explored employee perceptions of workplace safety. A group of 2,000 participants from 14 industries completed interviews from Feb. 1 to Feb. 16. The results showed that 58 percent of construction employees reported their organizations prioritized productivity and task completion over safety. In addition, 51 percent of construction employees said management meets only the minimum law requirements to keep employees safe, and 47 percent said they were afraid to report safety issues.

Other findings from the survey:

  • 32 percent of respondents believe management ignores an employee’s safety performance when determining promotions.
  • 48 percent feel safety meetings are conducted less frequently than they should be.

“On Workers’ Memorial Day, we pause to remember those that have been lost in completely preventable deaths,” NSC President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman said in an April 27 press release. “Sadly, the results of our survey indicate that many workers still worry about whether they will make it home safely tonight. We call on all employers to renew their commitment to keep everyone safe, on every job, each and every day.”

OSHA has published an interactive map that shows Workers’ Memorial Day events state-by-state. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters also released resources in honor of Workers’ Memorial Week.


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