Monday, August 14, 2006

Workplace Deaths Down In 2005 (Unless You're Hispanic, Black or Young)

Great news for the Bush administration's workplace safety and health program -- "positive news for our nation and all workers " -- according to OSHA head Edwin Foulke. And what's the good news? In 2005, only 15.6 workers were killed every day in on-the-job "accidents, a precipitous decline from the 15.8 workers killed in the workplace every day during 2004. That would be a total of 5,702 workplace deaths last year, down from 5,764 in 2004, according to the 2005 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries released last week. Foulke attributed the saving of .2 workers a day to the "tremendous success" of many OSHA "initiatives." He didn't elaborate as to what those "initiatives" may have been.

OK, so I'm being a poor sport. Good news is good news, no matter how small, right? Everyone should be happy about fewer workers being killed in 2005 than 2004, right?

That's right -- it's good news unless you're Hispanic, Black, or a young worker where the number of workplace fatalities rose last year, or unless you happen to live in the states of Wisconsin, Montana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Arizona,South Carolina, Maryland, Arkansas, Texas and Missouri where workplace deaths also rose. And, of course, unless you're one of the 50,000 - 60,000 workers who die of workplace disease every year.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney remarked that:
Our workplaces should be getting safer, not more dangerous. Yet six years of Bush Administration neglect and failure of workplace health and safety have put millions of workers at increased danger. It's clear that a change in direction and leadership is needed to protect workers on the job and to improve their lives.

While some groups of workers saw improvements, in 2005 job deaths increased among Latinos, Blacks, children, immigrants and agriculture workers. Sadly, but not surprisingly, these numbers confirm that under the Bush Administration, workers at the bottom of the economic ladder are paying a very heavy price.
917 Hispanic or Latino workers were killed in 2005, up from 902 deaths in 2004. Immigrant Latino workers bore the brunt of this increased toll, the AFL-CIO noted, with deaths increasing to 625 from 596 in 2004. Job fatalities among Black workers increased for the third year in a row, to 577 recorded deaths compared to 546 deaths in 2004.

Most upsetting, however, is the climbing toll of young workers. Deaths for workers under
20 years of age up 18 percent to 166 deaths, while 24 workers under the age of 16 lost their lives in the workplace, up 85 percent over 2004.

The news was good if you're a woman, whose fatal workplace injuries were down 3 percent (the lowest total ever recorded by the fatality census), but bad if you're an agricultural worker whose fatalities went up 23 percent from 145 in 2004 to 178 in 2005.

One of the most notable developments was the sharp rise in deaths from exposure to heat -- up over 150% from 18 fatalities in 2004 to 47 in 2005. California OSHA recently issued a heat standard as a result of a high number of heat-related deaths last year, although the number of California workers dying from heat exposure remains at the same number as last year at this time.

Meanwhile, workplace deaths rose in Wisconsin, Montana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Arizona, South Carolina, Maryland, Arkansas, Texas and Missouri and 12 other states, with Wisconsin, Montana and Mississippi showing more than a 25% increase.

Oh, and one other interesting detail. The biggest workplace disaster of 2005 was the March 23 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery in which 15 workers were killed. But when you look at the industry code for Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing (NAICS 3241), you find only 3 fatalities listed. If I didn't know better, petroleum refining would sounds like a pretty safe industry.

How could this be? The answer is that none of those killed in the Texas City refinery explosion were BP employees; they were all contractors who fall in some other industry code. What code they fell in, I have no idea. But it raises serious questions about the usefulness of the industry data.