AFL-CIO’s 2008 Death on the Job report, which was released in anticipation of the 20th annual Workers Memorial Day on April 28, points out that the latest figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed that there were 5,840 workplace deaths due to traumatic injuries in 2006, an increase of 106 over the 5,734 deaths reported in 2005. These numbers reflect the final BLS fatality data and are higher than the preliminary numbers released in August 2007.
On an average day, 153 workers lose their lives as a result of workplace injuries and disease, and another 11,233 are injured, the report read. AFL-CIO emphasized that these figures are telling of the weaknesses in the country's workplace safety laws and penalties. OSHA's lack of sufficient resources, the report said, fails to protect workers adequately as few inspectors and low penalties make the threat of an OSHA inspection hollow for many employers.
According to the report, there are 2,094 OSHA inspectors (821 federal and 1,273 state inspectors) for the approximately 130 million U.S. workers. At this rate, federal OSHA inspectors are only able to inspect workplaces, on average, once every 133 years, and state OSHA inspectors on average once every 65 years, the report stated.
In addition, the report concluded that in FY 2007, the average OSHA penalty for employers who allowed "conditions creating a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm to workers" was $909. It also found that the average national total penalty in fatality investigations was $10,133.
"Our nation's system of rules and enforcement has fallen embarrassingly short of its goal of ensuring workplace safety," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "America's workers simply can't afford four more years of Bush administration-style cuts, rollbacks and opposition to new safety protections.”
Nurse Laments Lack of Safety Protections
Rebecca Rhoades, a nurse from Cedar Rapids, Mich., is an example of a worker affected by this apparent dearth of safety protections. Rhoades hurt her back several times while lifting patients at the hospital where she worked. After her first injury, she said OSHA did not ensure her future safety either by requiring the hospital to offer lifts or mandating training in safe patient handling.
When Rhoades hurt her back a second time and reported the injury to the hospital, they placed her under working restrictions for only 6 weeks. She was then ordered to assume her original duties, which continued to weaken her back.
Despite back surgery, Rhoades became disabled and, as a result, was unable to return to work. Today, she is an activist working to support and create safe workplaces for nurses across the country. She reflects on her experience and wonders why she didn't receive more assistance from the hospital.
“There was no reason they couldn’t have helped me. I was a dedicated nurse and got raving reviews,” she said. “It’s getting more and more difficult for workers to have the kind of safety protections that would seem like common sense.”
To access the report, which offers an in-depth analysis on workplace safety, please visit http://www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/memorial.