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Rise in worker deaths a ‘national crisis,’ AFL-CIO president says during Workers’ Memorial Week

Safe Jobs poster
Photo: AFL-CIO

Washington — The state of workplace safety and health protections in the United States is a “national crisis,” according to Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, which has released its annual report detailing the hazards that workers face every day on the job.

Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect was published April 26 during Workers’ Memorial Week (April 23-30), which honors workers who have lost their lives on the job. The report features state and federal data on worker fatalities, injuries and illnesses, as well as on worker protections.

Worker deaths rose to 5,190 in 2016 from 4,836 in 2015, and the national fatality rate climbed to 3.6 per 100,000 workers from 3.4, according to the report. In addition, the AFL-CIO estimates that occupational diseases accounted for up to an additional 60,000 deaths, resulting in 150 work-related deaths a day.

Other highlights in the report:

  • Workplace violence was the second leading cause of death on the job – behind transportation-related incidents – rising to 866 in 2016 from 703 in 2015, including 500 homicides.
  • The construction sector experienced the most fatalities, followed by transportation and warehousing; and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.
  • The fatality rate was highest in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, followed by transportation and warehousing; mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction; and construction.
  • States with the highest fatality rates were Wyoming (12.3 per 100,000 workers), Alaska (10.6), Montana (7.9), South Dakota (7.5) and North Dakota (7.0).

The AFL-CIO is calling for safety and health improvements from federal agencies, including the development of an OSHA standard on workplace violence, and for OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration to issue and implement rules regarding infectious diseases, silica, beryllium, coal dust, injury reporting, combustible dust and chemical safety.

Also released during Workers’ Memorial Week was the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’s report, The Dirty Dozen 2018, a list of U.S. employers that the organization claims have jeopardized worker safety.

Loren Sweatt, OSHA deputy assistant secretary of labor, noted in a statement released April 27 that Workers’ Memorial Day marks the day the agency opened its doors in 1971, after its authorization by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

“American workplaces have become much safer in the decades since. However, one life lost is one too many,” Sweatt said in the April 27 press release. “We will continue to work with our partners across the country – job creators, trade associations, labor unions, safety and health professionals, and individual workers – to make every workplace safe and healthful.”

The National Safety Council echoed that sentiment in an April 25 blog post.

“At the National Safety Council, we believe we can eliminate preventable deaths in our lifetime,” Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of NSC, wrote. “Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28 reminds us that our mission is far from over. This day also reminds us that for every worker lost, there are many more people affected than we count in the statistics.

“Preventable deaths are tragedies because they should not have happened. Committing to eliminating all preventable workplace deaths may seem like a daunting task, but when you think of the 5,190 families and communities that carry the loss of loved ones for a lifetime, it is the only acceptable goal.”

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