Tuesday, April 27, 2004

AFL-CIO Releases 13th Annual Death on the Job Report

The AFL-CIO has released its 13 Annual Death on the Job report. The report is a national and state-by-state profile of worker safety and health in the United States. It's considered the policy "bible" for workplace health and safety activists. A combination of too few OSHA inspectors and low penalties makes the threat of an OSHA inspection hollow for too many employers. Millions of workers are still left with no OSHA coverage.

Here are some of the "highlights."
  • 15 workers were fatally injured and more than 12,800 workers were injured or made ill each day during 2002. These statistics do not include deaths from occupational diseases, which claim the lives of an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 workers each year.

  • a 62 percent increase in the number of trench fatalities, from 33 in 2002 to 53 in 2003.

  • Fatal injuries among Hispanic or Latino workers decreased about 6 percent, although the 840 fatalities recorded for Hispanic workers is the second-highest annual total for the population. States that saw an increase in the number of Hispanic worker fatalities in 2002 include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

  • The number of fatal work injuries among foreign-born Hispanic workers increased in 2002 to 577 from 527 in 2001.

  • Musculoskeletal Disorders continue to account for more than one-third of all injuries and illnesses involving days away from work and remain the biggest category of injury and illness. The occupations that reported the highest number of MSDs involving days away from work in 2002 were nursing aides and orderlies (44,421); truck drivers (36,814); and laborers, nonconstruction (24,862). Based on studies and experience, OSHA has estimated that MSDs are understated by at least a factor of two.

  • Government counts of occupational injury and illness are underestimated by as much as 69 percent. Companies have an incentive to underreport because OSHA’s enforcement targeting system is based on injury rates. Employers themselves are increasingly discouraging workers from reporting by using prizes and other incentives for groups who report the fewest injuries, and by implementing systems to discipline employees who report injuries.

  • as documented in a December 2003 New York Times series, prosecutions of recklessly negligent employers are extremely rare. Of the 170,000 workplace deaths since 1982, only 16 convictions involving jail time have resulted—although 1,242 cases involving work deaths were determined by OSHA to involve “willful” violations by employers (violations in which the employer knew that workers’ lives were being put at risk).

  • Penalties for significant violations of the law remain low. In fiscal year (FY) 2003, serious violations of the OSH Act carried an average penalty of only $871 ($856 for federal OSHA, $885 for state OSHA plans).

  • 2,240 federal and state OSHA inspectors responsible for enforcing the law at 8.1 million workplaces. At its current staffing and inspection levels, it would take federal OSHA 106 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once.

  • Between FY 1999 and FY 2003 the number of employees who work in workplaces inspected by federal OSHA inspections decreased by nearly 12 percent. The average number of hours spent per inspection also decreased between FY 1999 and FY 2003, from 22 to 18.8 hours per safety inspection and from 40 to 34.7 hours per health inspection. The number of citations for willful violations decreased from 607 in FY 1999 to 391 in FY 2003. The average penalty per violation and per willful violations both increased in FY 2003 from the FY 2002 level, while the average penalty per serious violation decreased to its lowest level since 1999.

  • After three and a half years under the Bush administration, rulemaking at OSHA and MSHA has virtually ground to a halt. In December 2003, the administration published its latest semiannual regulatory agenda, which sets forth its regulatory priorities and plans for the coming year. Having already withdrawn 22 pending OSHA regulatory actions from its regulatory agenda, in its May 2003 regulatory agenda the Bush administration withdrew the glycol ethers standard and the tuberculosis standard, leaving few major initiatives on the regulatory schedule.

  • OSHA still has taken no action on the Employer Payment for Personal Protective Equipment standard, which has been through the rulemaking process and is ready for final action.

  • The one major regulation on which OSHA is working, hexavalent chromium, is the result of a lawsuit brought against the agency by Public Citizen and PACE International Union.

  • The only major regulations still on the regulatory agenda are for silica, beryllium and hearing conservation for construction workers. But there is no commitment from OSHA to propose these rules. This will be the only administration in history not to issue a major safety and health regulation during its four years in office.

  • 17 MSHA standards to improve safety and health for miners have been withdrawn, including the Air Quality, Chemical Substances and Respiratory standard.

  • Adjusting for inflation, the FY 2005 proposed OSHA budget represents a $6.5 million cut over FY 2004 appropriations.

  • The FY 2005 OSHA budget proposes increasing programs for voluntary compliance and employer assistance while cutting training and outreach programs for workers and freezing standard-setting and enforcement programs. At OSHA, the president proposes to cut worker safety training programs by 65 percent and to shift these funds to employer assistance programs.

  • The administration’s budget proposes a cut in coal enforcement at MSHA from $116.4 million in FY 2004 to $114.9 million in the FY 2005 request.

  • For FY 2005, the Bush administration has proposed a $278.9 million budget for NIOSH—$237 million for program activity and $41.9 million to fund the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA). This is the same level of funding appropriated by Congress for FY 2004 and represents a $4.4 million cut in real dollars. In the previous three years, the administration proposed major cuts in the NIOSH budget, all of which were rejected by Congress.
So what's on the agenda for the future?
  • Address the high death and injury rate of Hispanic and foreign-born workers
  • Ergonomics: As long as Bush is in office, there won't be a federal standard, but efforts are under way in states such as Michigan.

  • Develop government program to regulate the hundreds of thousands of chemicals that are not regulated by OSHA.

  • Stop the U.S. government and chemical industry from undermining the European REACH effort to test and control exposures to thousands of chemicals currently in commerce

  • Address the effects of as downsizing, increased hours of work, increased pace of work and changes in technology, work processes and management techniques on workers' health.

  • Fight behavior-based safety programs, incentive programs and injury discipline programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses.