AFL-CIO: Nation's Workplaces Too Unsafe

A new report from the AFL-CIO claims workplace safety laws are too weak to effectively protect U.S. workers.

The union's annual report, Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, was released April 26 as a precurser to Workers Memorial Day on April 28. The report notes that in 2005, there were 5,734 fatal workplace injuries, with significant increases in fatalities among Latino, African–American, foreign-born and young workers.

On average, 16 workers were fatally injured and more than 12,000 workers were injured or made ill each day of 2005. These statistics do not include deaths from occupational diseases, which claim the lives of an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 workers each year. Overall, the rate of workplace fatalities decreased slightly from 4.1/100,000 workers in 2004 to 4.0/100,000 workers in 2005.

“The number of workers killed, injured and diseased on the job each year is a national tragedy and disgrace. It’s time for the Bush administration to wake up and see there are real solutions to preventing workplace injuries and deaths. Enforceable safety laws. Better funding for OSHA. Voices for workers on the job,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “Instead of rolling back workplace safety measures, the Bush administration should meet its responsibility to provide needed protections for America’s workers.”

The administration’s proposed FY 2008 budget for worker safety and health programs provides $490 million for OSHA, which, adjusting for inflation, represents a $25 million cut since the administration took office. Federal OSHA enforcement staffing levels have been cut from 1,683 to 1,543 positions and staffing for the development of safety and health standards from 100 to 83 positions, according to the report.

To inspect each workplace, it would take federal OSHA 133 years with its current number of inspectors, by AFL-CIO calculations. In seven states (Florida, Delaware, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland and South Dakota), it would take more than 150 years for OSHA to pay a single visit to each workplace. In 18 states, it would take between 100 and 149 years to visit each workplace once.

The current level of federal and state OSHA inspectors provides one inspector for every 63,670 workers. This compares to a benchmark of one labor inspector for every 10,000 workers recommended by the International Labor Organization for industrialized countries. In the states of Arkansas, Florida, Delaware, Nebraska, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, the ratio of inspectors to employees is greater than 1/100,000 workers.

Wyoming, Montana and Mississippi had the highest rates of worker fatalities in the last year while Rhode Island and Vermont had the best record of workplace safety. Twenty-four states saw an increase in either the rate or number of fatalities between 2004 and 2005, with Mississippi, Montana and South Dakota having the biggest increases in fatality rates.

For a copy of the AFL-CIO Death on the Job report, go to http://www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/memorial.

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