AFL-CIO report claims workplaces not safer

Death Rate stalled at 2017 level

Thanks to unions, more workers are going home safely to their families than a decade previously, as the total number of worker deaths has been reduced. 

However, according to data in the AFL-CIO’s 30th annual “Death on the Job Report,” released on May 4, a week after The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 50th anniversary, there is still a long way to go. 

The report revealed worker safety has stagnated, and not much progress has been made in the last few years.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act has helped cut deaths on the job from nine per 100,000 workers 30 years ago to 3.5 per 100,000 in 2019, according to the latest available data included in the report.

The death rate has stalled at that level since 2017. While it does not look like much on paper, three and a half deaths per 100,000 people adds up to 275 workers dying every day due to unsafe working conditions. 

Those figures do not count sickness. 

“About 95,000 workers a year die from occupational illnesses,” often contracted long before, said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler during a Zoom press conference unveiling the report.

OSHA’s limited ability to assess significant penalties is part of the problem. The maximum federal fine for death of a worker on the job is $12,788, though some states have higher fines. The maximum jail time if a worker dies is six months.  At 1,798 inspectors combined, state and federal OSHAs have less oversight than 30 years ago.

“The problems are structural,” Shuler said, adding that corporate opposition has hamstrung new worker safety rules for years. “But we have some good news: We have a pro-worker president, a pro-worker vice president and a pro-worker majority in Congress,” Shuler said, adding this gives workers a chance to improve worker safety laws and beef up enforcement.

While the report did not say so, more So-Called “Right to Work” states –including three of the five worst – had higher death rates for workers. 

The bottom five ranked states included Wyoming (49), North Dakota (48) and West Virginia (46). Other So-Called “Right to Work” states included: Alabama and Oklahoma (tied for 30), Arizona (11), Arkansas (40), Florida (18), Georgia (33), Idaho (27), Indiana and Iowa (tied at 35), Kansas (43), Kentucky (30), Louisiana (44), Michigan private sector (22), Mississippi (41), Nebraska (42), Nevada (13), North Carolina (25), South Carolina (39), South Dakota and Texas (tied at 35), Tennessee (25), Utah (20), Virginia (33) and Wisconsin (24).

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