Categorized | Business

AFL-CIO: Hawaii ranks 20th for deaths on the job


This 2012 edition of Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect marks the 21st year the AFL-CIO has produced a report on the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers.

Four decades ago, in 1970, Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act promising workers in this country the right to a safe job.

Since that time, workplace safety and health conditions have improved. But too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death, as demonstrated by three 2010 disasters: the explosion at the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29 coal miners — the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years; the Tesoro Refinery explosion in Washington State that killed seven workers; and the BP/Transocean Gulf Coast oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and caused a massive environmental and economic disaster.

In 2010, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,690 workers were killed on the job — an average of 13 workers every day — and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases. More than 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but this number understates the problem. The true toll of job injuries is two to three times greater—about 7.6 million to 11.4 million job injuries and illnesses each year.

The risk of job fatalities and injuries varies widely from state to state, in part due to the mix of industries.

West Virginia led the country with the highest fatality rate (13.1 per 100,000), followed by Wyoming (11.9), Alaska (11.8), South Dakota (8.6) and North Dakota (8.4).

The lowest state fatality rate (0.9 per 100,000) was reported in New Hampshire, followed by Massachusetts (1.7), Rhode Island (1.8) and California, Delaware and New Jersey (2.0). This compares with a national fatality rate of 3.6 per 100,000 workers in 2010.

Latino workers continue to be at increased risk of job fatalities, with a fatality rate of 3.9 per 100,000 workers in 2010. There were 707 fatal injuries among Latino workers, down from 713 in 2009. Sixty-two percent of these fatalities (441 deaths) were among workers
born outside the United States.

The cost of job injuries and illnesses is enormous—estimated at $250 billion to $300 billion a year.

The number of workplace inspectors is woefully inadequate. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the state OSHA plans have a total of 2,178 inspectors (892 federal and 1,286 state inspectors) to inspect the 8 million workplaces under the OSH Act’s jurisdiction.

Federal OSHA can inspect workplaces on average once every 131 years; the state OSHA plans can inspect them once every 73 years. The current level of federal and state OSHA inspectors provides one inspector for every 58,687 workers.

OSHA penalties are too low to deter violations. The average penalty for a serious violation of the law in FY 2011 was $2,107 for federal OSHA and $942 for the state plans.

Even in cases of worker fatalities, penalties are very weak. For FY 2011, the median initial total penalty in fatality cases investigated by federal OSHA was $11,197, with a median penalty after settlement of $7,900.

For the OSHA state plans, the initial median total penalty was $6,662, reduced to $5,900 after settlement.

South Carolina had the lowest median current penalty for fatality investigations, with $1,688 in penalties assessed, followed by Idaho ($1,750) and Utah ($1,850).

Rhode Island had the highest median current penalty ($43,880), followed by Minnesota ($26,375) and Wyoming ($20,400).

Criminal penalties under the OSHA law are weak. They are limited to cases in which a willful violation results in a worker death and are misdemeanors.

Since 1970, only 84 cases have been prosecuted, with defendants serving a total of 89 months in jail. During this time there were more than 370,000 worker deaths.

By comparison, in FY 2011 there were 371 criminal enforcement cases initiated under federal environmental laws and 249 defendants charged, resulting in 89.5 years of jail time and $35 million in penalties — more cases, fines and jail time in one year than during OSHA’s entire history.

Eight years of neglect and inaction by the Bush administration seriously eroded safety and health protections. Standards were repealed, withdrawn or blocked. Major hazards were not addressed. The job safety budget was cut. Voluntary compliance replaced strong enforcement. In the absence of strong government oversight and enforcement, many employers cut back their workplace safety and health efforts.

The Obama administration has returned OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to their mission to protect workers’ safety and health. The president appointed strong, pro-worker safety and health advocates to head the agencies — Dr. David Michaels at OSHA and Joe Main at MSHA.

The Obama administration has moved forward with new initiatives to strengthen enforcement and with some new safety and health standards on job hazards. The administration has increased the job safety budget and hired hundreds of new inspectors, restoring the cuts made during the Bush administration.

But with the election of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, progress in safety and health is threatened. Business groups and Republicans have launched a major assault on regulations and have targeted key OSHA and MSHA rules.

In the face of these attacks, progress on developing and issuing many important safety and health rules has stalled.

Workers in the United States need more safety and health protection, not less. Four decades after the passage of OSHA, there is much more work to be done.

The tragedy at Massey Energy’s Big Branch Mine and the explosion at the Tesoro Refinery highlighted serious problems in job safety protections and laws. At MSHA, many coal operators contest violations to try to avoid being cited for a pattern of violations and subject to tougher enforcement, including suspending dangerous operations.

At OSHA, the agency has no authority to require the correction of hazards while employer contests of violations are pending.

Improvements in the Mine Safety and Health Act are needed to give MSHA more authority to shut down dangerous mines and to enhance enforcement against repeated violators.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act is now more than 40 years old and is out of date.

Congress should pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act to extend the law’s coverage to workers currently excluded, strengthen civil and criminal penalties for violations, enhance anti-discrimination protections and strengthen the rights of workers, unions and victims.

The nation must renew the commitment to protect workers from injury, disease and death and make this a high priority. Employers must meet their responsibilities to protect workers and be held accountable if they put workers in danger. Only then can the promise of safe jobs for all of America’s workers be fulfilled.

Hawaii’s Worker Safety and Health

Number of employees: 586,772

Number of establishments: 38,150

State or federal OSHA program: State

Number of workplace fatalities, 2010: 19

Rate per 100,000 workers: 3.3

National rate: 3.6

Ranking of state fatality rate, 2010: 20

Total cases of workplace injuries and illnesses, 2010: 14,000

Rate per 100 workers: 3.9

National rate: 3.5

Total injury and illness cases with days away from work, job transfer or restriction, 2010: 8,200

Rate per 100 workers: 2.3

National rate: 1.8

Number of state and local employees: 86,821

Are state and local employees covered by the OSH Act? Yes

Number of workplace safety and health inspectors, FY 2012: 22

Number of workplace safety and health inspections conducted, FY 2011: 363
Construction: 163
Non-construction: 200

Length of time it would take for OSHA to inspect each workplace once: 105 yrs.

Average penalty assessed for serious violations of the OSH Act, FY 2011: $907

National average: $1,576

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