Thursday, April 28, 2005

AFL-CIO Releases 14th Annual Death on the Job Report

The AFL-CIO has released its 14th annual Death on the Job report (Introduction here. Full 154 page report here.) The report is a national and state-by-state profile of worker safety and health in the United States. This version takes a look at not just the past year, but the entire first term of the Bush administration. It contains every bit of data you’ll ever need to back up your health and safety arguments or conduct a media interview. Read it, download it, print it out and save it.

Here are some of the "highlights."
  • According to the BLS, there were 5,559 workplace deaths due to traumatic injuries in 2003, a slight increase from the number of deaths in 2002, when 5,534 workplace deaths were reported.

  • The construction sector had the largest number of fatal work injuries (1,126) in 2003, followed by transportation and warehousing (805) and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (707).

  • The number of workplace homicides increased for the first time since 2000.

  • In 2003, 4.4 million injuries and illnesses were reported in private-sector workplaces, a slight decrease from 4.7 million in 2002, as well as 585,300 injuries and illnesses among state and local employees in the 30 states and territories where these data are collected.

  • Injuries and Illnesses are Underestimated: While government statistics show that occupational injury and illness are on the decline, numerous studies have shown that government counts of occupational injury and illness are underestimated by as much as 69 percent.

  • Musculoskeletal disorders continue to account for one-third of all injuries and illnesses with days away from work The occupations that reported the highest number of MSDs involving days away from work in 2003 were nursing aides, orderlies and attendants. MSDs are underreported by the BLS by at least a factor of two.

  • Immigrant Workers: Fatal injuries to Hispanic or Latino workers decreased for the second year in a row, although Hispanic workers continue to record the highest rate of fatal injuries among the racial/ethnic groups reported.

    Thirty percent of the fatal injuries to foreign-born workers were a result of transportation incidents and assaults and homicides accounted for nearly thirty percent. The construction industry accounted for 260 or one-third of all Hispanic worker fatalities.
  • In FY 2005, there are at most 2,138 federal and state OSHA inspectors responsible for enforcing the law at approximately 8 million workplaces.

  • In FY 2004, OSHA conducted 638 fewer health and safety inspections than in FY 2003. At its current staffing and inspection levels, it would take federal OSHA 108 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once.

  • In fiscal year (FY) 2004, serious violations of the OSH Act carried an average penalty of only $873.

  • The average number of hours spent per inspection decreased between FY 1999 and FY 2004, from 22 to 18.7 hours per safety inspection and from 40 to 35.6 hours per health inspection.

  • The number of citations for willful violations decreased from 607 in FY 1999 to 446 in FY 2004.

  • Criminal Prosecutions: 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).

  • Coverage: The current OSHA law still does not cover 8.5 million state and local government employees. Although these public employees encounter the same hazards as private-sector workers, in 26 states and the District of Columbia they are not provided with protection under the OSH Act.

Overall funding levels proposed for OSHA, MSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are insufficient to maintain current program activities of these agencies.
  • At OSHA, the President proposes to eliminate all funding for worker safety training programs at the same time seeking increases for employer assistance programs. Taking into account inflation, this year’s proposed budget freezes OSHA’s and MSHA’s enforcement programs.

  • For FY 2006, the Bush administration has proposed a $286 million budget for NIOSH, similar to the level of funds appropriated for NIOSH in FY 2005 ($285.4 million), but adjusted for inflation represents a $5.1 million cut in real dollar terms.

  • The administration’s FY 2006 MSHA budget proposes $280 million in funding for MSHA compared with $279.2 appropriated in FY 2005. Adjusting for inflation, the FY 2006 proposed MSHA budget represents a $4.9 million cut in real dollar terms

OSHA and MSHA Standards

The Bush administration is the only administration in history not to issue a major safety and health regulation during its four years in office.

  • During its first term, in addition to repealing the ergonomics standard, the administration has withdrawn 24 pending OSHA regulatory actions from its regulatory agenda, 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.

  • There are currently 4 economically significant regulations still on the regulatory agenda in addition to Hexavalent Chromium: Crystalline Silica (in the pre-rule stage); Confined Spaces in Construction (proposed rule stage); Beryllium (pre-rule stage) and Hearing Conservation for Construction Workers (long-term action with the next action undetermined). There is no commitment from OSHA to propose the rules that are in the pre-rule or long-term action stages.

  • Seventeen MSHA standards for miners have been withdrawn since the President Bush took office, including the Air Quality, Chemical Substances and Respiratory standard.

So what are the issues that we need to work on, according to the report?
  • Hispanic and Foreign-Born Worker Fatalities and Injuries: Fatalities among Hispanic workers rose 48 percent from 1992 to 2003, while overall workplace fatalities went down by 11 percent.

    Hispanic men have the greatest overall relative risk of fatal occupational injury of any gender or race/ethnicity group. In 2000, Hispanic construction workers made up less than 16 percent of the construction workforce, but they suffered 23.5 percent of the fatalities. In 2000, Hispanic construction workers were nearly twice as likely to be killed by occupational injuries than their non-Hispanic counterparts.

    In February 2002, OSHA announced an initiative to address the increased safety and health risks of immigrant and Hispanic workers. But at the same time, the administration has proposed terminating funding for worker training and outreach programs, many of which are targeted to these high-risk workers.

  • Ergonomics: Despite repealing the OSHA ergonomics standard four years ago, the administration’s major activities consist of just three final ergonomics guidelines—for the nursing home industry, retail grocery stores and poultry processing and a total of 17 general duty clause citations since January 2001.

  • Congressman Charlie Norwood has introduced four pieces of legislation, "a grab bag of political favors for business -- that threaten worker safety." More here (pdf).

  • OSHA has not aggressively addressed work-related issues stemming from 9/11 like biohazards, emergency response, security and surveillance of workers cleaning up the World Trade Center.

  • Long hours of work and the way work is organized: The International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that hours worked annually in the United States have been steadily increasing over the past couple of decades. Workers in the U.S. now work more hours than workers in most of Western Europe and Japan. Evidence that long hours of work cause injuries and illnesses is growing.

  • Workers’ health is also affected by such elements as the pace of work, number of people performing the job (staffing levels), hours and days on the job, amount and length of rest breaks, work load, layout of the work and skills of those workers on the job. Work organization changes, such as machine-paced work, inadequate work-rest cycles, time pressures, and repetitive work are associated with musculoskeletal disorders, increases in blood pressure and risks of cardiovascular mortality.

    Ten states have passed legislation placing limits on the amount of mandatory overtime nurses or health care workers can be forced to work and some states are passing legislation establishing nurse-to-patient hospital staffing ratios

  • Behavior-based safety programs, incentive programs and injury discipline programs attempt to shift the responsibility for injuries and job safety to workers instead of focusing on workplace hazards and discourage workers from reporting injuries or unsafe working conditions.
Workers Compensation
  • Because workers’ compensation insurers are denying claims and workers are failing to file them in the first place, workers, their families, businesses, federal and state governments together are paying anywhere from $7.6 billion to $23.1 billion each year for occupational diseases that should be covered by workers compensation insurance.

  • Led by the American Insurance Association, and the Chamber of Commerce, businesses from Hawaii to Alaska to New Hampshire and Maryland continued to demand cuts in workers’ compensation coverage and benefits in 2004-2005. For the most part, they succeeded.

  • Insurance companies were largely successful convincing state legislatures in 2004 and 2005 to enact more restrictions on medical care and disability benefits, limit attorneys and resist attempts to regulate rates

  • Workers’ compensation laws need to be reformed to expand coverage and eligibility, to increase benefit levels and to permit workers their choice of physician. Insurance reform is sorely needed.

What is to be done?

According to the AFL-CIO,
The OSH Act needs to be strengthened to make it easier to issue safety and health standards and to make the penalties for violating the law tougher. Workers need to be given a real voice in the workplace and real rights to participate in safety and health as part of a comprehensive safety program to identify and correct hazards. Coverage should be extended to the millions of workers who fall outside the Act’s protection.

A standard is still needed to protect workers from ergonomic hazards and crippling repetitive strain injuries and back injuries, which continue to represent the most significant job safety problem in the nation. OSHA needs to keep up with new hazards that face workers as workplaces and the nature of work change. Hazardous conditions in the service sector and in retail trade need greater attention. OSHA and MSHA need additional funding to develop and enforce standards and to expand worker safety and health training. Similarly, additional funds are needed for NIOSH to support enhanced research on safety and health problems.