WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez today issued the following statement on Workers’ Memorial Day:
“Each year, Workers’ Memorial Day gives us an opportunity to remember those who have lost their lives in the course of a day’s work, and to recommit to keeping workers safe on the job. In 2015, as we mark the five-year anniversaries of three tragedies – the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in which 11 workers lost their lives, the Upper Big Branch mine disaster which took the lives of 29 miners, and the Tesoro refinery explosion which killed seven workers – we are reminded that while we have made great strides in worker safety, we must do more.
In 2013, 4,585 workers were killed on the job. That number has fallen dramatically since the Occupational Safety and Health Act passed in 1970, but it’s still 4,585 too many. It’s 4,585 too many men and women who lost their lives trying to earn a paycheck. It’s 4,585 too many workers – mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers – who went to work but never came home.
Every worker has a right to a safe and healthy workplace – and a right to speak up when they believe something is unsafe. Every employer has a responsibility to ensure the safety of their workers, and forward-looking businesses know that compromising the safety of workers to improve the bottom line is a false choice.
As we mourn the lives lost on the job, we must make sure workers know their rights and employers know their responsibilities. In doing so, we can prevent tragic loss and ensure every worker goes home safely at the end of every workday.”
Each year, thousands of transportation workers are hurt or killed on the job. These women and men devote their lives to keeping our transportation system – the backbone of the U.S. economy – running, and they deserve far better.
This Tuesday, April 28, is Workers’ Memorial Day: a time to remember those workers who have died on the job. But it is also a crucial time for us to recommit ourselves to creating and implementing strong protections to ensure workers return home safely.
Read the complete statement by Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, at The Huffington Post.
WASHINGTON – In 2011, 4,693 workers were killed on the job, according to a new AFL-CIO report, “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.” That is an average of 13 workers every day.
In addition, another estimated 50,000 die every year from occupational diseases – an average of 137 a day, bringing the total worker fatalities to 150 a day.
North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska and Arkansas had the highest workplace fatality rates, while New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Washington had the lowest. Latino workers, especially those born outside of the United States, continue to face rates of workplace fatalities 14 percent higher than other workers, the same as last year.
In 2011, 3.8 million workers across all industries experienced work-related illnesses and injuries. The true toll is estimated to be two to three times greater, but lack of reporting in this area results in lower official figures.
The job fatality rate had been declining steadily for many years, but in the past three years the rate has essentially been unchanged, at 3.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers. Similarly, for the past two years, there has been no change in the reported workplace injury and illness rate (3.5 per 100 workers).
This year’s report comes on the heels of a horrific explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, which killed 15 people, injured hundreds more and caused widespread destruction.
The report also examines the role of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 43 years after its creation. It finds that OSHA remains underfunded and understaffed, and that penalties are too low to deter violations. Because of the underfunding, federal OSHA inspectors can only inspect workplaces once every 131 years on average, and state OSHA inspectors would take 76 years to inspect all workplaces.
OSHA penalties are too low to be taken seriously, let alone provide deterrence. The average penalty is only $2,156 for a serious federal health and safety violation, and only $974 for a state violation. Even in cases involving worker fatalities, the median total penalty was a paltry $5,175 for federal OSHA and $4,200 for the OSHA state plans. By contrast, property damage valued between $300 and $10,000 in the state of Illinois is considered a Class 4 felony and can carry a prison sentence of 1 to 3 years and a fine of up to $25,000.
Criminal penalties under OSHA are also weak. While there were 320 criminal enforcement cases initiated under federal environmental laws and 231 defendants charged in fiscal year 2012, only 84 cases related to worker deaths have been prosecuted since 1970.
In the face of an ongoing assault on regulations by business groups and Republicans in Congress, progress on many new important safety and health rules has stalled. The White House Office of Management and Budget has delayed needed protections, including OSHA’s draft proposed silica rule, which has been held up for more than two years.
“In 2013, it is unacceptable that so many hardworking men and women continue to die on the job,” said AFL-CIO President and third-generation coal miner Richard Trumka. “No one should have to sacrifice his or her life or health and safety in order to earn a decent living. Yet, elected leaders, business groups and employers have failed to provide adequate health and safety protections for working families. At the same time, too many politicians and business leaders are actively working to dismantle working people’s right to collectively bargain on the job and speak out against unsafe, unjust working conditions. This is a disgrace to all those who have died. America’s workers deserve better.”
“Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect” was released after hundreds of Workers Memorial Day vigils, rallies and action were held across the country to commemorate all those workers who died and were injured on the job.
By Ron Ingerick, North Carolina State Legislative Director –
The deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, and the deaths of workers and first responders there should be a wake-up call for all of us here.
Last year, in North Carolina, 148 of our hardworking sisters and brothers left for work one day and didn’t come home to their families. That’s 148 deaths that could have been prevented if all employers followed job safety requirements and put needed safeguards and protections in place.
Every day people suffer workplace injuries from combustible dust explosions or exposure to well-known hazards like asbestos, benzene and silica dust. Some 78,000 North Carolinians a year are injured or sickened on the job. These occurrences are all too common, leaving workers powerless and affecting thousands of families.
That is why it is important to empower workers to speak out against safety violations. The freedom a union contract provides is one way workers can find their voice. Government doing its job to protect the public is another, but corporations and their bought politicians are fighting back with false claims that regulations kill jobs. Enforcement has been weakened, budgets slashed, and people we love continue to be put at risk.
Did you know, for example, that there are only 99 OSHA inspectors in our state, or that it would take 59 years to inspect each North Carolina workplace just once? According to news reports, the fertilizer plant in Texas had not been inspected since 1985.
When Big Business abdicates its responsibility to pay the cost to have and keep safe workplaces, the rest of us end up paying for it in blood and tears. But when working people in North Carolina demand adequate regulations and enforcement, lives will be saved, and everyone’s jobs will be safer.
Let us not forget our immigrant sisters and brothers who disproportionately hold riskier jobs and continue to be at an increased risk of job fatalities. In 2010, the majority of Latino workplace deaths — 500 out of 729 — were among immigrant workers. Employers take advantage of these workers, many of whom lack documents or are unable to speak up because they do not know they have rights as individuals working in the United States. Workplace illnesses and injuries do not discriminate on the basis of legal status, but the inability of some workers to raise red flags about problems puts the health and safety of all workers at risk.
Every year on April 28, Workers Memorial Day, we pay tribute to those who have lost their lives on the job, as well as those who’ve been hurt or made sick due to workplace safety violations. As we remember our dead in North Carolina, we call on our elected officials to do more and do better.
All workers should be able to go to work and return home safe and sound to their loved ones, and no worker should have to sacrifice life, limbs or health to earn an honest day’s pay.
The preceding editorial by Ron Ingerick Jr. was published April 26 by the Asheville Citizen-Times. Ingerick is the North Carolina State Legislative Director for the SMART Transportation Division. He is also vice president of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO. He lives in Arden, N.C.