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Unions say US work-related death rates show no recent improvement

30 May 2013

According to a large-scale report on the state of health and safety protection for US workers, the AFL-CIO trade union association says that  for the past three years the job fatality rate has essentially been unchanged, with a rate of 3.5 per 100,000 workers.

A memorial to the 29 killed at the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010
A memorial to the 29 killed at the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010

Prior to 2009, the organisation says, there were regular improvements in the death rate since the Occupational Safety and Health Act came into force in 1970

The report, Death on the job: the toll of neglect, is based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It says the cost of work-related injuries and illnesses now amounts to some $300 billion (£200bn) a year.

In 2011, according to final fatality data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,693 workers were killed on the job—an average of 13 workers every day—and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases. More than 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but this number understates the problem. The true toll of job injuries is two to three times greater—about 7.6 million to 11.4 million job injuries and illnesses each year, the report says.

The risk of job fatalities and injuries varies widely from state to state, in part due to the mix of industries, but also the level of regulation and resources devoted to enforcement. North Dakota led the country with the highest fatality rate (12.4 per 100,000), followed by Wyoming (11.6), Montana (11.2), Alaska (11.1) and Arkansas (8.0). The lowest state fatality rate (1.2 per 100,000) was reported in New Hampshire, followed by Rhode Island (1.5), Washington (1.9), Connecticut (2.2) and Massachusetts (2.2).

The fatality rate is almost six times the UK rate of 0.6 per 100,000 workers.

Among the unions' main concerns are the inadequate number of workplace inspections, the low level of penalties imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the weakness of criminal penalties under the 1970 Act.

The AFL-CIO says it is most worried about the current Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which, it says, since the election in 2010, has threatened progress made in health and safety by President Obama's Democrat administration.

The report says: "Business groups and Republicans have launched a major assault on regulations and have targeted key OSHA and Mine Safety and Health Administration rules. In the face of these attacks, progress on developing and issuing many important safety and health rules has stalled, particularly at OSHA."

The report cites recent tragedies such as the 2010 explosion in the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, in which 29 miners died, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and the more recent fertilizer-factory blast in Texas as evidence that more needs to be done.

It calls for the passing of the Protecting America's Workers Act to strengthen the now "out of date" OSHA 1970, claiming "only then can the promise of safe jobs for all of America's workers be fulfilled".

To download the full report go to the link below.

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