Although workplace safety has improved dramatically in the 35 years since OSHA was created, the new job safety report "Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect - A National and State-by-State Profile of Worker Safety and Health in the United States" shows the reported rates of workplace fatalities rose 4.1 percent in 2004 from 4 percent in 2003. Overall, workplace fatalities showed an increase the first time in 10 years and the reported rates of illnesses and injury declined slightly, according to the report.
Protection across states varied widely, with Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, West Virginia and Kentucky having the highest fatality rates, and Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware and Massachusetts having the lowest.
"Our nation is still grieving the Sago mineworkers' deaths and we find it outrageous that in this era more than 150 workers die on the job each and every day," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "America's corporations must invest more in health and safety protections for working men and women, and our nation's leaders must start holding them tightly accountable."
The study also revealed a substantial increase in workplace fatalities for Latino and other immigrant workers. In 2004, the fatality rate among Latino workers was 19 percent higher than the fatal injury rate for all U.S. workers. At the national level, fatal injuries to immigrant Latino workers increased 11 percent from 2003 to 2004. Of the foreign-born workers who were fatally injured at work in 2004, 60 percent were Latino.
The AFL-CIO attributes the sudden upsurge of workplace deaths on the reduction of OSHA's and the MSHA's budgets for the past 5 years. According to the union, this hasn't allowed OSHA and MSHA to adequately deal with the new and emerging hazards, including risks to workers from bioterrorism threats and pandemic flu.
In response to the report, an OSHA spokesperson said that since OSHA first opened its doors three-and-half decades ago, there have been reductions in injuries and illnesses despite U.S. employment doubling to 115 million workers at 7.2 million worksites. Even fatal workplace injuries are among the lowest annual totals ever recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the past 3 years, according to the spokesperson.
The spokesperson also said that this was all done through focusing agency enforcement efforts, conducting outreach and compliance assistance and emphasis on OSHA's voluntary cooperative program efforts, all activities that will have the greatest impact on further reducing injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
A call made to MSHA was not returned.