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Don’t become ‘numb’ to workplace deaths and illnesses, AFL-CIO president says during Workers’ Memorial Week

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Photo: AFL-CIO

Washington — AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka cautioned the public not to become “numb” to workplace fatalities and illnesses, as the labor federation released its annual report detailing the hazards workers face every day.

Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect was published April 25 during Workers’ Memorial Week (April 22-29), which honors workers who have lost their lives on the job, and ahead of Workers’ Memorial Day (April 28). The report features state and federal data on worker fatalities, injuries and illnesses, as well as on worker protections.

In 2017, the number of worker deaths decreased to 5,147 from 5,190 in 2016, but was still higher than the 4,836 reported in 2015. Another 95,000 or so die each year because of on-the-job illnesses, the report states, which means that, in 2017, about 275 people died from work-related causes each day.

“This is a national crisis,” Trumka said during a news conference, “and it’s well past the time that folks in Washington, D.C., stop playing politics and take action to prevent these tragedies.”

The work-related fatality rate for workers over the age of 65 is 10.3 per 100,000 workers – nearly three times greater than the overall national rate of 3.5 per 100,000.

Transportation incidents are still far and away the leading cause of workplace deaths, with 2,077 in 2017. Slips, trips and falls were second at 887, and workplace violence was third at 807.

Workplace violence also was responsible for nearly 29,000 lost-time injuries in private industry. During the news conference, AFL-CIO expressed its support for H.R. 1309, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, which would direct OSHA to develop a standard to address the issue.

Meanwhile, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, an advocacy group, released its annual Dirty Dozen report April 24 to spotlight companies the organization says “put workers and communities at risk due to unsafe practices, harassment and racial discrimination.”

“Too many workers become ill, injured and die each year under the watch of their employers who, in some cases, are repeat offenders and among the world’s most profitable companies,” National COSH Co-Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb said in an April 22 press release. “Employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace, but we continue to hear disturbing reports of abuse, exploitation, harassment and threats to silence victims.

“There is no reason for workers to be put at risk of injury or death when there are specific safety standards to prevent these tragedies. A person’s life and the lives of their families are not just the cost of doing business.”

Watchdog group Public Citizen is calling for greater worker protections against heat stress in an April 24 press release, which notes that Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) plans to introduce legislation this year to address the hazard.

During the week of July 4 last year, more than 2.2 million workers were exposed to “extreme heat” each day, and that heat stress killed 815 workers and injured more than 70,000 from 1992 to 2017, according to a report from Public Citizen.

In a statement released April 26, acting OSHA administrator Loren Sweatt said workplace safety “is everyone’s business and must be everyone’s priority.” She continued, “Safety must start on Day One and be a continuous process. OSHA will continue to work with its partners across the country – employers, workers, trade associations, labor unions, and safety and health professionals – to ensure that every workplace is safe and healthful.”

Safe at Work Pledge

The National Safety Council is asking Americans to take part in its Safe at Work Pledge.

According to NSC, preventable workplace deaths have increased nearly 18% since 2009, outpacing the number of hours worked by around 6%.

Workers’ Memorial Day is an opportunity to not only remember those who lost their lives on the job, but also recommit to protecting workers from death and injury,” Mark P. Vergnano, chairman of the NSC Board of Directors and president and CEO of the Chemours Co., said in an April 18 press release. “Drawing national attention to this issue helps focus all stakeholders on significant ways that we can improve employee safety. Let’s honor those lost by doing more to protect the workers of tomorrow.”

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