Thursday, April 29, 2004

Workplace Deaths Shoot Up in Massachusetts

Management Practices to Blame?

Workplace deaths shot up from 49 in 2002 to 81 in 2003, one of the highest totals since records started being kept in 1994, according to a report, DYING FOR WORK IN MASSACHUSETTS: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces 2003, by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and MASSCOSH.

The report was released for Workers Memorial Day.
"That 81 people in Massachusetts lost their lives in the workplace is an absolute disgrace," said MassCOSH Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb. "This report demonstrates that the cost of cutting corners on safety is paid in human lives."

Mass AFL-CIO President Robert J. Haynes echoed that sentiment, and pointed to a far-reaching piece of legislation that U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy has drafted that will help curtail workplace deaths in the future.

"It’s terribly tragic that this many people died on the job in 2003, but it’s morally offensive that so many of these deaths were preventable," said Haynes. "Thankfully, our senior senator is working on this problem, and has a solution that will save lives."
Senator Edward M. Kennedy is sponsoring the Protecting America’s Workers Act, that would expand safety protections to millions of workers, improve enforcement procedures, increase penalties for willful and serious violations, and strengthen protections for workers who report employer safety violations.

This story was picked up by Workers Comp Insider which, while understanding the effect of national policies on workplace safety, argues that, ultimately "management philosophy, the commitment to the work and the workforce, determines whether there will be serious injuries or even death." They go on to ask employers who are reading their site whether the following factors may be leading to increases in workplace fatalities:
  • reduced employment (while the amount of work remains the same)

  • reduced spending on training (as a result of difficult economic times),

  • cuts in federal and state enforcement efforts (reducing the chance that they'll be inspected)

  • and fear of job loss among workers (leading to reluctance to complain about working conditions)
And the answer to these questions, according to Workes Comp Insider?
There are no simple answers to these questions. But good management understands the importance of keeping workers safe, healthy, and productive. It never makes good business sense -- or ethical sense, for that matter -- to scrimp on safety just because no one may be watching. Any company's most valuable asset is a skilled workforce. The realities of a tough economy may require reductions in the workforce. But prudent employers will remain sensitive to the strains and stresses of these reductions and take steps to support remaining workers, helping them to perform their jobs safely. From the perspective of good business practices, nothing else makes sense.