Job-Related Deaths In US Are Too High Despite Improved Work Conditions
May 9, 2014

Job-Related Deaths In US Are Too High Despite Improved Work Conditions

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

While working conditions in the United States have improved dramatically since Upton Sinclair’s 1906 classic The Jungle, recent years have seen a flatlining of a decades-long trend toward declining mortality at work and work-related illness or injury – according to a new report from the AFL-CIO.

The report, from the country’s largest federation of labor unions, was based on the most current information on workplace fatalities and injuries provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It found that the progression toward lower and lower on-the-job fatalities has slowed in recent years.

"Over the years, clearly the United States has made progress in protecting workers," said Peg Seminario, director of safety and health at the AFL-CIO. "But today the numbers of workers being killed and injured is still too high and unacceptable.”

The report noted that more than 4,600 American workers were killed at work in 2012 and an approximately 50,000 died from job-related diseases, leading to a loss of 150 workers each day due to unsafe working conditions. In the last four years, the job mortality rate has mostly gone unchanged – with 3.4 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2012.

The report also found that there were 3.8 million injuries reported in 2012. However, the labor organization said many injuries go unreported and said the true number was probably between 7.6 million and 11.4 million.

The report also included a state-by-state analysis, which named North Dakota as “an exceptionally dangerous and deadly place to work.”

According to the report, 17.7 workers were killed per 100,000 in North Dakota during 2012 – more than five times the national rate. Wyoming had the dubious distinction of having the nation’s next highest rate, at 12.2 deaths per 100,000. Alaska came next, at 8.9 deaths per 100,000.

Report authors attributed North Dakota’s high fatality rate to the state’s recent oil and gas boom – which has attracted job seekers from around the US.

"North Dakota really stood out as a state that's deadly and dangerous for workers," Seminario said. "Workers who work in oil and gas extraction are at very, very high risk."

The report also found that Latino workers have a much higher mortality rate than the national average– 3.7 per 100,000 workers. Seminario credited this higher rate to de facto weaker protections for undocumented workers.

In comments related to the report, the labor organization praised both laws aimed at worker safety, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, as well as the Obama Administration. However, the AFL-CIO said more effort from the government is necessary to reduce both injuries and fatalities in the workplace.

“The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the state OSHA plans have a total of only 1,955 inspectors (864 federal and 1,091 state inspectors) to inspect the 8 million workplaces under the OSH Act’s authority,” the labor organization said in a statement. “The current levels provide one inspector for every 67,847 workers in America.”

The AFL-CIO also called for existing laws and regulations to be strengthened after “eight years of neglect and inaction under the Bush administration.”