Workers’ Memorial Day: There Are No 'Freak' Workplace Accidents

Workers’ Memorial Day: There Are No 'Freak' Workplace Accidents

A new report, produced by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupation Safety and Health (MassCOSH), details how Massachusetts workers lost their loves on the job in 2013 and discusses what must be done to keep workers safe.

When math teacher Colleen Ritzer was murdered at Danvers High School on Oct. 22, 2013, she became the 40th Massachusetts worker to die on the job in 2013. By the end of the year, eight more workers lost their lives, bringing the total to 48.

A new report, produced by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupation Safety and Health (MassCOSH), details how Ritzer and other Massachusetts workers lost their lives on the job in 2013 and discusses what must be done to keep workers safe.

Dying for Work in Massachusetts,” released to coincide with Workers’ Memorial Day, points out that Ritzer was one of five workers who died in 2013 as a result of job violence. Nine workers – six in the construction industry – died from falls, while nine other workers were crushed in machines or struck by equipment, according to the report.

“Too often, workplace fatalities are called ‘freak accidents,’” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of MassCOSH. “Calling it ‘freak’ means that it has never happened before and will never happen again, so there is no need to change anything. This report confirms that most workplace deaths can be prevented if proper safety measures are implemented.”

The report also highlights the startling rate at which occupational illnesses are killing workers. In 2013, an estimated 480 Massachusetts workers died from occupational disease, while at least 1,800 workers were newly diagnosed with cancers caused by workplace exposures.
 
According to the report, 19 percent of the state’s fallen workers in 2013 were immigrants (nine out of 48), a 9 percent increase from the previous year and greater than their representation in the state’s population (14.4 percent in 2012).

The report asserts that OSHA lacks the funding, staff and tools to deter violations, noting that it would take over a century for OSHA to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction in Massachusetts. When OSHA cited Massachusetts employers for safety violations that led to workplace fatalities, the average fine (based on final penalties) was $6,577.

“Unfortunately, too many employers determine it to be cheaper to violate OSHA regulations than to comply with them, ignoring the potential human costs,” the report asserts.  

The report emphasizes that OSHA needs tougher regulations and more enforcement muscle – including the use of criminal prosecution to deter employers – and that OSHA’s protections should be extended to public employees.

The report was unveiled during a Workers’ Memorial Day event on the steps of the state house in Boston.

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