Worker Health & Safety: We Must Do More
New AFL-CIO Report Reveals 275 Daily U.S. Worker Deaths in 2017
Statement from Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain
Salem, OR – According to an annual report released yesterday by the AFL-CIO, in 2017, 5,147 working people were killed on the job and an estimated 95,000 died from occupational diseases. Each and every day, on average, 275 U.S. workers die from hazardous working conditions. In Oregon, 49 people died on the job in 2018, and this statistic has been even higher in past years.
Our labor movement recognizes that work is too often dangerous, from construction jobs to healthcare providers. There are real safety solutions that workers on almost any job can identify, but too often, employers are unwilling to pay for solutions. The cost is not only loss of productivity and higher employee turnover, but loss of precious life.
Workplace violence is the third-leading cause of workplace death, accounting for 807 deaths, including 458 homicides. For the third year in a row, workplace violence injuries increased, with nearly 29,000 workers suffering serious violence-related injuries due to assault on the job. Yet, even as violence increases in the workplace, the Trump administration has sidelined developing and issuing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration workplace violence standard.
The report, titled Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, found a small decrease in the overall rate of fatal job injuries in 2017 from the previous year—3.5 per 100,000 from 3.6 per 100,000 workers. However, in recent years, there has been little overall change in the job fatality rate. Moreover, the most recent studies on the burden of occupational injuries and illnesses find that the toll of occupational disease deaths is much greater than previously estimated.
“This is a national crisis. And it’s well past time that our elected leaders in Washington, D.C., stop playing politics and take action to prevent these tragedies. Instead, the Trump administration is actually gutting the protections we fought so hard to win in the first place,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “This is unacceptable. It’s shameful. And the labor movement is doing everything in our power to stop it.”
The top labor officer in the country expressed support for H.R.1309—Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act—legislation that, if passed, will be instrumental in preventing workplace violence in these high-risk sectors.
This is the 28th year the AFL-CIO has produced this report with its findings on the state of safety and health protections for working people within the United States. The report shows the highest workplace fatality rates are in Alaska, North Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia and South Dakota.
Other report highlights show that Latino workers continue to have an increased risk of dying on the job and that the number of Latino worker deaths increased in 2017 to 903 from 879. Deaths among older workers also increased; workers 65 or older have nearly three times the risk of dying on the job as workers overall. Construction, transportation and agriculture industries remain among the most dangerous. In 2017, 917 construction workers were killed—the highest total of any sector. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting was the most dangerous industry sector, with a fatality rate of 23.0 per 100,000 workers.
Despite these disturbing findings, OSHA’s meager resources are declining. Currently, federal OSHA has only 752 inspectors—the lowest number since the early 1970s. It would take the agency 165 years to visit workplaces under its jurisdiction just once. Yet, the administration has continued to enact an aggressive deregulatory agenda, gut safety rules, propose deep cuts to worker safety and health training and job safety research, and has refused to move forward with new rules to protect workers against growing threats.
We must remember how the modern labor movement was born, when workers had to work so many hours that death was far too common, in atrocious conditions that ended lives prematurely. That fatal legacy lives on. We have come a long way, but we cannot stop the fight now. It is the duty of all of us to advocate for safer workplaces, and an end to preventable job-related violence. The union movement is about saving lives, and we intend to keep fighting until no worker has to fear for their health and safety.