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A Century After Shirtwaist Fire: Workplace Fatalities Still High

The AFL-CIO recently released its annual report on workplace safety – it marks the twentieth anniversary of the AFL-CIO report. 2011 marks the centennial anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City – the worst industrial accident of its time. The New York City factory fire killed 146 workers and sparked a movement for workers’ rights and safety on the job. This year also commemorates the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The AFL-CIO’s report highlights the number of workplace fatalities in 2009 according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: over 4,300 workers died while doing their jobs. Nearly 4.1 million workers were reported injured in the workplace, but the AFL-CIO says this is a gross underestimate – the number should actually be double or triple the reported injuries. As the AFL-CIO notes: “too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death….”

ALF-CIO’s Overview of Worker Fatalities and Workplace Injuries

Last year, Montana led in workplace fatalities with 10.8 deaths per 100,000 workers, and New Hampshire reported the least on-the-job deaths with less than one death per 100,000. Nationwide, the construction industry led in most work fatalities with 816. Transportation and warehousing followed with 579, and the agriculture, hunting and fishing sector rounded out the top three with 551. The agriculture sector also had the highest fatality rate with 26 deaths per 100,000.

ALF-CIO could also point to “transportation incidents” as the number-one cause of workplace deaths across industries. About two in five workers killed on-the-job died in car collisions and truck accidents. Fellow workers also place others in jeopardy: over a quarter of all workplace fatalities in 2009 were cause by a violent assault (788) or homicide (521). Fatal falls contributed to another 700 worker deaths.

The report also highlights the dangers for Latino and Hispanic workers in the workplace: they face a risk of death that is 16 percent higher than non-Hispanic workers. Texas, California and Florida led in Hispanic worker deaths, as well as in deaths for all foreign-born workers.

The report also examined in depth the statistics on workplace illnesses and injuries across the private and public sections. In the private sector, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail trade were the top three industries with the most reported injuries and illnesses on the job. In the public sector, fire protection, civil engineering and construction, and police protection led in non-fatal work-related injuries.

Another theme of the report was OSHA staffing to complete worksite investigations. According to benchmarks set by the International Labour Organization (ILO), one inspector is needed for every 10,000 workers in industrial market economies. As the AFL-CIO points out OSHA staffing in all states is woefully inadequate to meet this benchmark. The report also examines the time it would take for OSHA inspectors to visit every worksite in each state at current staffing levels. From a low of 23 years in Oregon to a high of 241 years in Florida, it’s clear that most workers won’t see an OSHA inspector conducting a jobsite inspection in their lifetimes.

How Did New York Compare in the AFL-CIO Worker Fatality Report?

According to the Bureau of Labor, of New York’s over eight million workers, about 166,000 were injured on the job, and 184 died in 2009. That puts New York’s rate of worker fatalities per 100,000 workers at 2.1 – New York had the ninth lowest rate of worker fatalities in the nation. Neighbors Connecticut and New Jersey ranked seventh and sixteenth lowest. The national average worker fatality rate was 3.3 workers per 100,000.

In 2009, about 166,000 New York workers were injured or ill on the job – they spent a combined 86,900 days away from work, transferred to a different job, or working with restrictions.

New York has 125 OSHA inspectors or one inspector for 66,571 New York workers. At current staffing levels, it would take New York’s OSHA inspectors 97 years to inspect every worksite in New York once – that puts New York at about the middle of the pack. New York also ranks 19th lowest overall for the average OSHA penalty assessed for a serious violation at $991 – $972 is the national average.

Based on the AFL-CIO report, New York still has some challenges for safer workplaces for all workers – no worker should die in a preventable accident or because of negligence. Contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your right to receive benefits for your injuries.


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