Latinos Have 9% Higher Workplace Fatality Rate, Says New OSHA Report

The AFL-CIO’s newly released 2014 Death on the Job report provides statistical evidence of the true state of American workplace safety.  Since passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, the job fatality rate has been dropped 81 percent, saving the lives of 492,000 American workers.  In 2012, nearly 3.8 million workplace injuries were reported, though OSHA estimates that when unreported injuries are included the true number is between 7.6 to 11.4 million.

The report recommends several solutions for improving workplace safety:

• The White House needs to remove the OMB blockade of new safety and health rules and instead, actively support these measures. OSHA needs to move to finalize the proposed standard to reduce silica exposure and to develop and issue new standards on other key hazards. When finalized, the new silica rule would prevent 700 deaths and 1,600 cases of silica-related disease each year. Almost 12,000 lives have been claimed from workplace silica exposure over the entire silica rulemaking period.

• Funding and staffing at OSHA and MSHA should be increased to provide for enhanced oversight of worksites and timely and effective enforcement.

• The widespread problem of injury underreporting must be addressed and employer policies and practices that discourage the reporting of injuries through discipline or other means must be prohibited.

• The serious safety and health problems and increased risk of fatalities and injuries faced by Latino and immigrant workers must be given increased attention.

• The escalating fatalities and injuries in the oil and gas extraction industry demand intensive and comprehensive intervention. Without action, the workplace fatality crisis in this industry will only get worse as production intensifies and expands.

The report also touches on the chronic underfunding of OSHA and how it affects the agency’s ability to properly operate.  The latest numbers show that on the federal and state level OSHA has only 1,995 inspectors (864 federal and 1,091 state) to inspect over 8 million workplaces.  At this rate it would take 79 years to inspect each workplace once.  The inspectors-to-American workers ratio is 1:67,847.  

The report also addresses the insufficiency of fines which have gone up under the Obama Administration but remain too low to dissuade employers from cutting safety corners.  During the 2014 fiscal year the average penalty for a serious violation was $1,895 on the federal level and $1,011 at the state.  Violations involving fatalities cost an average of $5,600 at the federal level and $6,100 at the state level.  Since 1970 only 84 cases have been prosecuted resulting in a total of 89 months in jail.  During that time over 390,000 workers have died on the job.

The safest states in the nation were Massachusetts (1.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers), followed by Rhode Island (1.7), Connecticut (2.1), and New Hampshire and Washington (2.2).

The report also shows that when viewing injuries and fatalities along demographic lines, Latinos are disproportionately placed in dangerous workplace environments:

In 2011, Latino workers continued to be at increased risk of job fatalities, with a rate of fatal injuries of 3.7 per 100,000 workers, 9 percent higher than the overall job fatality rate of 3.4 per 100,000 workers.

The number of fatal injuries to Latino workers in 2012 was 748, approximately the same as 2011 (749), but an increase from the 707 Latino worker deaths reported in 2010.

Since 2001, when the rate of Latino worker fatalities reached an all-time high of 6.0 deaths per 100,000 workers, significant progress has been made in reducing work-related deaths among this high-risk group. Since 2001, the job fatality rate among Latino workers has been reduced by 38 percent. At the same time, the overall job fatality rate has declined by 21 percent.

In 2012, 65 percent of the fatalities (484 deaths) among Latino workers were among workers born outside of the United States. The states with the highest number of Latino worker fatalities were Texas (201), California (137) and Florida (54). Texas and Florida both saw an increase in the number of Latino work-related deaths in 2012 from 2011

The report’s authors call for an increased focused on safety legislation and standards:

Job safety laws need to be strengthened. Improvements in the Mine Safety and Health Act are needed to give MSHA more authority to enhance enforcement against repeat violators and to shut down dangerous mines. Congress should pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act to extend the OSH Act’s coverage to workers currently excluded, strengthen civil and criminal penalties for violations, enhance anti-discrimination protections and strengthen the rights of workers, unions and victims.  About 8 million state and local employees currently lack OSHA coverage.

The nation must renew the commitment to protect workers from injury, disease and death and make this a high priority. We must demand that employers meet their responsibilities to protect workers and hold them accountable if they put workers in danger. Only then can the promise of safe jobs for all of America’s workers be fulfilled.

The 204-page report can be read in its entirety here.

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