How One Accident Leads To Eventual Harm

This workplace safety video is used in accordance with the USA Fair Use Doctrine for nonprofit educational purposes – 2021

Fifty years after the passage of the nation’s job safety laws, the toll of workplace injury, illness and death remains too high, and too many workers remain at serious risk. There is much more work to be done.

The High Toll of Job Injuries, Illnesses and Deaths

In 2019:

  • 275 workers died each day from hazardous working conditions.
  • 5,333 workers were killed on the job in the United States.
  • An estimated 95,000 workers died from occupational diseases.
  • The job fatality rate was 3.5 per 100,000 workers, the same as the previous year.
  • Latino and Black worker fatalities increased; these workers are at greater risk of dying on the job than all workers.
  • Employers reported nearly 3.5 million work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders continue to make up the largest portion (30%) of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Underreporting is widespread—the true toll of work-related injuries and illnesses is 7.0 million to 10.5 million each year.

States with the highest fatality rates in 2019 were:

  • Alaska (14.1 per 100,000 workers)
  • Wyoming (12.0 per 100,000 workers)
  • North Dakota (9.7 per 100,000 workers)
  • Montana (7.8 per 100,000 workers)
  • West Virginia (6.4 per 100,000 workers)

Industries with the highest fatality rates in 2019 were:

  • Agriculture, forestry, and fishing and hunting (23.1 per 100,000 workers)
  • Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction (14.6 per 100,000 workers)
  • Transportation and warehousing (13.9 per 100,000 workers)
  • Construction (9.7 per 100,000 workers)
  • Wholesale trade (4.9 per 100,000 workers)

During the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • America’s workplaces have been a primary source of COVID-19 outbreaks, with thousands of workers infected and dying. However, workplace infection and outbreak information is limited because there is no national surveillance system.
  • Racial inequities in working conditions, disease and death were made worse and exploited.
  • The Trump administration’s response to the need for workplace safety protections was wholly inadequate; instead of providing strong requirements, it ignored science, and offered weak recommendations that were voluntary and plagued with political interference and corporate influence.
  • The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has so far cited 346 employers for COVID-19 violations that resulted in an average penalty of $3,751 per violation.
  • Several state OSHA plans have issued emergency temporary standards for COVID-19, and other states have issued executive orders requiring employers to implement workplace safety protections, or are enforcing current OSHA standards in their states— but many workers remain without strong protections.

Workplace violence remains a serious and growing problem:

  • Workplace violence deaths increased to 841 in 2019, while more than 30,000 violence-related lost-time injuries were reported.
  • Workplace violence is the third-leading cause of workplace death.
  • 454 worker deaths were workplace homicides.
  • Women workers are at greater risk of violence than men; they suffered two-thirds of the lost-time injuries related to workplace violence, and were five times more likely to be killed by a relative or domestic partner in the workplace than men.
  • There is no federal OSHA standard to protect workers from workplace violence.

Latino and Black workers, often laboring in dangerous working conditions, are more likely to die on the job:

  • The Latino fatality rate rose sharply to 4.2 per 100,000 workers in 2019, higher than the national average and a 14% increase from the previous year.
  • Deaths among all Latino workers increased in 2019: 1,088 deaths, compared with 961 in 2018. Some 66% of those who died were immigrants.
  • The Black worker fatality rate of 3.6 per workers continues to be higher than the national average.
  • 634 Black workers died on the job—the highest number in more than two decades.

Older workers are at high risk. In 2019:

  • More than one-third of workplace fatalities occurred among workers ages 55 or older.
  • Workers 65 or older have nearly three times the risk of dying on the job as other workers, with a fatality rate of 9.4 per 100,000 workers.

The cost of job injuries and illnesses is enormous—estimated at $250 billion to $330 billion a year.

Job Safety Oversight and Enforcement

OSHA resources in FY 2020 still are too few and declining:

  • There are only 1,798 inspectors (774 federal and 1,024 state) to inspect the 10.1 million workplaces under the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s jurisdiction.
  • The number of OSHA inspectors is near its lowest number since the agency opened 50 years ago.
  • There is one inspector for every 82,881 workers.
  • The current OSHA budget amounts to $3.97 to protect each worker.

Penalties in FY 2019 still are too weak

  • The average penalty for a serious violation was $3,923 for federal OSHA.
  • The average penalty for a serious violation was $2,137 for OSHA state plans.
  • The median penalty for killing a worker was $12,144 for federal OSHA.
  • The median penalty for killing a worker was $6,899 for state OSHA plans.
  • Only 110 worker death cases have been criminally prosecuted under the Occupational Safety and Health Act since 1970.
Much Work Remains to Be Done

Workers need more job safety and health protection, not less. We call on:

  • OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to issue emergency COVID-19 safety standards to protect workers immediately from the virus that has ravaged our country and our workplaces.
  • OSHA and MSHA to fully enforce these protections to hold employers accountable for not following workplace safety laws.
  • OSHA to promulgate a permanent standard to protect workers from infectious diseases.
  • OSHA to increase attention to the serious safety and health problems faced by Latino, Black, immigrant and aging workers.
  • OSHA and MSHA to fully implement new rules on injury reporting/anti-retaliation and coal dust.
  • OSHA to issue a workplace violence standard for health care and social service workers. The Senate should pass legislation to ensure this is done.
  • OSHA and MSHA to develop and issue rules on emergency response and silica in mining.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency to fully implement the Toxic Substances Control Act to protect workers from chemical exposures.
  • Congress to increase funding and staffing at job safety agencies.
  • Congress to pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act to extend the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s coverage to workers currently excluded, strengthen civil and criminal penalties for violations, enhance antidiscrimination protections, and strengthen the rights of workers, unions and victims.
  • Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act so that workers can freely form a union without employer interference or intimidation, organize for safe jobs, and hold employers and job safety agencies accountable.

The nation must renew its commitment to protect workers from injury, disease, and death, and make these protections 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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