Friday is Workers Memorial Day, the day every year that is dedicated, in labor organizer Mother Jones’ words to “Mourn for the Dead and Fight like Hell for the Living.”
And like every Workers Memorial Day, the AFL-CIO has issued its much awaited workplace safety and health bible: Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect 2023. This marks the 32nd year the AFL-CIO has produced a report on the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers.
The Bad News
The report notes that although working conditions have improved significantly over the 50 years since OSHA was created, there is still much work to be done.
5,190 workers were killed on the job in the United States last year, in addition to an estimated 120,000 workers died from occupational diseases. Black workers died on the job at the highest rate in more than a decade and Latino workers continue to be at greater risk of dying on the job than all workers. Because of widespread underreporting, we don’t know the real number of workplace injuries; the true toll of work-related injuries and illnesses is 5.4 million to 8.1 million each year in private industry.
Meanwhile, as I’ve noted many times before, the true impact of COVID-19 infections due to workplace exposures is unknown. We know from limited data that more than 1.5 million nursing home workers have been infected
with COVID-19 and more than 3,000 have died, but we have little idea how many acute care workers died as a result of COVID-19 contracted on the job.
If OSHA were to inspect every workplace in the country just once, it would take the agency 190 years
Workplace violence, musculoskeletal disorders from repetitive motion injuries and occupational heat illness continue to be major problems, but data no longer is reported annually to track and understand these important issues. Finally, the cost of job injuries and illnesses is enormous—estimated at $174 billion to $348 billion a year.
And OSHA itself has not yet recovered from the damage done by the Trump administration and the COVID pandemic. At this time, if OSHA were to inspect every workplace in the country just once, it would take the agency 190 years under current staffing and inspection records. That’s almost two centuries!
When the first Death on the Job was published in 1992, federal OSHA could inspect workplaces under its jurisdiction once every 84 years.
On the political front, the report warns that
Over the years, the progress has become more challenging as employers’ opposition to workers’ rights and protections has grown, and attacks on unions have intensified. Big corporations and many Republicans have launched an aggressive assault on worker protections. They are attempting to shift the responsibility to provide safe jobs from employers to individual workers, and undermine the core duties of workplace safety agencies.
The Good News
It’s not all bad news. Biden has appointed good leadership to head the main health and safety agencies: Doug Parker at OSHA and Chris Williamson at MSHA, while John Howard continues at NIOSH. In addition,
The Biden administration has taken important steps to protect workers, prioritizing worker protections on its regulatory agenda, taking steps on targeted enforcement efforts on urgent hazards, and filling staff and leadership vacancies. It also launched broad efforts on worker empowerment and targeting workplace inequities. Within the first two years, the Biden administration has been rebuilding the safety agency’s capacity and resources to hold employers accountable for providing safe workplaces. It has increased the number of inspectors, established strong enforcement initiatives, improved transparency and is working on new rules for worker participation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection process, and health and safety protections for workplace violence in health care and social assistance, heat illness prevention, silica in mining and injury tracking.
The report is not just a litany of workplace mayhem, but also a detailed, data-rich account of every aspect of workplace safety in the United States. And it is particularly useful for local activists and reporters, with the detailed information and data is broken down by state.
Are you struggling with a Trivia Night question about the average total OSHA penalty per fatality investigation in Texas? Well the answer is here: $14,831, which compares to a national average of $16,024.
Which state has the highest workplace fatality rate? Louisiana: 7.7 per 100,000 workers (as compared with the national average of 3.6.)
You can download the entire 240 page report here, free of charge.
Brought to you free of charge by the folks who gave us the weekend.
More AFL-CIO Workers Memorial Day materials can be found here.
OSHA will also hold a virtual Workers Memorial Day even Thursday. More information on that here.