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On-the-Job Death Toll Compells More Safety Regulations for Workers

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) reported 63 deaths on the job last year in Massachusetts in its annual report on deaths in the workplace. The annual report, “Dying for Work in Massachusetts,” was released in conjunction with a ceremony at noon outside the State House.

The State House held the ceremony “to remember those who died or were injured while working in 2015, and to call for changes aimed at creating safer conditions on job sites.”

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations is a national trade union center and the largest federation of unions in the United States. This year marks the 25th anniversary the AFL-CIO has produced a report on the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers.

The High Toll of Death on the Job

Last year, 63 workers died on the job in Massachusetts alone. Fifty-five of the workers classified as on-the-job fatalities either died or were killed while working. The remaining eight workers were firefighters who died from work-related diseases.

The average age of workers killed by injuries in 2015 was 47. Workers in their twenties accounted for 16% of all fatal injuries, the AFL-CIO reports, while workers 60 and older accounted for 27% of all fatal injuries.  The report described the construction sector as “one of the most dangerous for workers,” with 18 on-the-job fatalities in Massachusetts last year.

While the report provides 226 pages packed with numbers and statistics, JDSupra points out that “Anytime we talk about death in terms of numbers and statistics, the individuals who form the data are unavoidably obscured, their deaths become abstractions, and we have difficulty seeing the deceased as the daughters and sons, the brothers and sisters, the mothers and the fathers, the neighbors and friends they were.”

  • Dr. Michael Davidson was seeing patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital when he stepped away to talk with the son of a deceased woman he had treated and the son shot him.
  • Lawrence O’Leary was on a parking garage under construction at Logan Airport when he fell off the building.
  • David Sutherland was trying to get from his sinking fishing boat to a rescue boat in the ocean off Gloucester.
  • Joseph Brady was crossing a road to a lot in Stoughton where he was selling Christmas trees when he was run over.
  • Lenore Travis was operating a tractor on her small family farm in Lincoln when the vehicle flipped over.

In addition to Dr. Davidson, a revered cardiac surgeon, the report notes that five persons lost their lives through violence in the workplace.

  • A delivery man and a taxi driver were both robbed, shot, and killed.
  • A sous chef was stabbed with a 12-inch sushi knife by a co-worker.
  • A clerk was found shot in the parking lot of a cell phone store.
  • A young man participating in a job-ready program was shot and killed by a rival while shoveling snow.

Safety on the Job: Oversight and Enforcement

More than 532,000 workers now can say their lives have been saved since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which promised workers in this country the right to a safe job. Since that time, workplace safety and health conditions have improved but at the same time some conditions have gotten worse and too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) resources are still too few and declining with only 1,840 federal and state inspectors to inspect 8 million workplaces. This means there are enough inspectors for federal OSHA to inspect workplaces once every 145 years, on average, and state OSHA plans have enough to inspect workplaces once every 97 years.

The current level of federal and state OSHA inspectors provides one inspector for every 74,760 workers.

See Also: Wisconsin Court Strikes Down Right-to-Work Law in Favor of Unions

Despite a new law that will allow OSHA to increase its penalties for workplace safety and health violations, penalties are still too weak to be an effective deterrent for some employers and large corporations.

AFL-CIO contends the solution is obvious: “Very simply, workers need more job safety and health protection. The nation must renew the commitment to protect workers from injury, disease and death and make this a high priority. We must demand that employers meet their responsibilities to protect workers and hold them 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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