May 2012, Week 1


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Wed, 2 May 2012 20:18:12 -0400
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Death on the Job
AFL-CIO Safety and Health Department

[moderator: the full report may be found at the
link above]


This 2012 edition of Death on the Job: The Toll of
Neglect marks the 21st year the AFL-CIO has produced a
report on the state of safety and health protections for
America's workers.

Four decades ago, in 1970, Congress enacted the
Occupational Safety and Health Act promising workers in
this country the right to a safe job.

Since that time, workplace safety and health conditions
have improved. But too many workers remain at serious
risk of injury, illness or death, as demonstrated by
three 2010 disasters: the explosion at the Massey Energy
Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29
coal miners-the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years;
the Tesoro Refinery explosion in Washington State that
killed seven workers; and the BP/Transocean Gulf Coast
oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and caused a
massive environmental and economic disaster.

In 2010, according to data from the Bureau of Labor
Statistics, 4,690 workers were killed on the job-an
average of 13 workers every day-and an estimated 50,000
died from occupational diseases. More than 3.8 million
work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but
this number understates the problem. The true toll of
job injuries is two to three times greater-about 7.6
million to 11.4 million job injuries and illnesses each

The risk of job fatalities and injuries varies widely
from state to state, in part due to the mix of
industries. West Virginia led the country with the
highest fatality rate (13.1 per 100,000), followed by
Wyoming (11.9), Alaska (11.8), South Dakota (8.6) and
North Dakota (8.4). The lowest state fatality rate (0.9
per 100,000) was reported in New Hampshire, followed by
Massachusetts (1.7), Rhode Island (1.8) and California,
Delaware and New Jersey (2.0). This compares with a
national fatality rate of 3.6 per 100,000 workers in

Latino workers continue to be at increased risk of job
fatalities, with a fatality rate of 3.9 per 100,000
workers in 2010. There were 707 fatal injuries among
Latino workers, down from 713 in 2009. Sixty-two percent
of these fatalities (441 deaths) were among workers born
outside the United States.

The cost of job injuries and illnesses is enormous-
estimated at $250 billion to $300 billion a year.

The number of workplace inspectors is woefully
inadequate. The federal Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) and the state OSHA plans have a
total of 2,178 inspectors (892 federal and 1,286 state
inspectors) to inspect the 8 million workplaces under
the OSH Act's jurisdiction. Federal OSHA can inspect
workplaces on average once every 131 years; the state
OSHA plans can inspect them once every 73 years. The
current level of federal and state OSHA inspectors
provides one inspector for every 58,687 workers.

OSHA penalties are too low to deter violations. The
average penalty for a serious violation of the law in FY
2011 was $2,107 for federal OSHA and $942 for the state
plans. Even in cases of worker fatalities, penalties are
very weak. For FY 2011, the median initial total penalty
in fatality cases investigated by federal OSHA was
$11,197, with a median penalty after settlement of
$7,900. For the OSHA state plans, the initial median
total penalty was $6,662, reduced to $5,900 after
settlement. South Carolina had the lowest median current
penalty for fatality investigations, with $1,688 in
penalties assessed, followed by Idaho ($1,750) and Utah
($1,850). Rhode Island had the highest median current
penalty ($43,880), followed by Minnesota ($26,375) and
Wyoming ($20,400).

Criminal penalties under the OSHA law are weak. They are
limited to cases in which a willful violation results in
a worker death and are misdemeanors. Since 1970, only 84
cases have been prosecuted, with defendants serving a
total of 89 months in jail. During this time there were
more than 370,000 worker deaths. By comparison, in FY
2011 there were 371 criminal enforcement cases initiated
under federal environmental laws and 249 defendants
charged, resulting in 89.5 years of jail time and $35
million in penalties- more cases, fines and jail time in
one year than during OSHA's entire history.

Eight years of neglect and inaction by the Bush
administration seriously eroded safety and health
protections. Standards were repealed, withdrawn or
blocked. Major hazards were not addressed. The job
safety budget was cut. Voluntary compliance replaced
strong enforcement. In the absence of strong government
oversight and enforcement, many employers cut back their
workplace safety and health efforts.

The Obama administration has returned OSHA and the Mine
Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to their mission
to protect workers' safety and health. The president
appointed strong, pro-worker safety and health advocates
to head the agencies -- Dr. David Michaels at OSHA and
Joe Main at MSHA.

The Obama administration has moved forward with new
initiatives to strengthen enforcement and with some new
safety and health standards on job hazards. The
administration has increased the job safety budget and
hired hundreds of new inspectors, restoring the cuts
made during the Bush administration.

But with the election of a Republican majority in the
House of Representatives in 2010, progress in safety and
health is threatened. Business groups and Republicans
have launched a major assault on regulations and have
targeted key OSHA and MSHA rules. In the face of these
attacks, progress on developing and issuing many
important safety and health rules has stalled.

Workers in the United States need more safety and health
protection, not less. Four decades after the passage of
OSHA, there is much more work to be done.

The tragedy at Massey Energy's Big Branch Mine and the
explosion at the Tesoro Refinery highlighted serious
problems in job safety protections and laws. At MSHA,
many coal operators contest violations to try to avoid
being cited for a pattern of violations and subject to
tougher enforcement, including suspending dangerous
operations. At OSHA, the agency has no authority to
require the correction of hazards while employer
contests of violations are pending.

The job safety laws need to be strengthened.
Improvements in the Mine Safety and Health Act are
needed to give MSHA more authority to shut down
dangerous mines and to enhance enforcement against
repeated violators. The Occupational Safety and Health
Act is now more than 40 years old and is out of date.
Congress should pass the Protecting America's Workers
Act to extend the law's coverage to workers currently
excluded, strengthen civil and criminal penalties for
violations, enhance anti-discrimination protections and
strengthen the rights of workers, unions and victims.

The nation must renew the commitment to protect workers
from injury, disease and death and make this a high
priority. Employers must meet their responsibilities to
protect workers and be held accountable if they put
workers in danger. Only then can the promise of safe
jobs for all of America's workers be fulfilled.


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