May 2013

Fatal Work Injuries a Serious Concern in New England

For 22 years, the AFL-CIO has released an annual report detailing the status of health and safety protections for workers throughout the United States. The 2013 report has been released and shows little progress has been made in recent years to reduce the number of workers getting hurt or dying on the job. While great strides have been made since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was created in 1970, progress has stalled in recent years and worker safety risks are receiving little national attention. 

Our Providence, RI work injury lawyers know that Rhode Island is one of the better states for workers, with a fatality rate of 1.5 deaths for every 100,000 workers as compared with the national average of 3.5 deaths for every 100,000 workers. Still, there is a long way to go to improve working conditions and to help reduce the number of people who die or are seriously injured while doing their jobs.

Neglect and Lax Regulations Stall Workplace Safety Improvements

The AFL-CIO indicates that 4,693 workers died on the job in 2011, or an average of 13 workers each day. Another 50,000 workers died as a result of occupational diseases while a total of 3.8 million suffered an injury or illness as a result of work.

Unfortunately, with the high number of workers suffering injury or dying on the job, the job fatality rate has not improved from last year. In fact, the job fatality rate has been stagnant for the past three years with few improvements being made to reduce the number of people who die on the job.

The AFL-CIO suggests a number of potential reasons why worksites aren’t becoming safer and why workers continue to suffer injuries and fatalities including:

  • Too few OSHA inspectors. There are an estimated 8 million workplaces in the United States that OSHA has jurisdiction over. Unfortunately, there are only 837 federal OSHA inspectors and 1,065 state inspectors to check work conditions at these eight million worksites. This means that federal inspectors would be able to visit a workplace once every 131 years and state inspectors would be able to visit once every six years.
  • Fines that are too low. Even when OSHA does catch employers committing workplace violations, this is not a major deterrent. For a serious violation, the penalty imposed by federal OSHA regulators was $2,156 on average. For state OSHA, the penalty was just $974. Even when workers die as a result of workplace violations, federal OSHA only imposed a median penalty after settlement of $5,175. These fines are simply not high enough to actually force employers to take safety seriously.
  • Limits on criminal penalties.  Criminal charges can be brought only in cases where a willful violation of OSHA regulations leads to worker death. Even when criminal penalties are imposed, the crime is a misdemeanor. Further, only 84 cases have been prosecuted sine 1970 and defendants who were convicted served only 89 months of jail time.

With few inspectors available and with inspectors having virtually no leverage to ensure compliance, it is no wonder that employers are not actively taking steps to make worksites safer. Unfortunately, this is why the AFL-CIO has named its 2013 report “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.”

If you have been injured in a work accident, contact an experienced lawyer at 508-677-4900. The Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl  serves clients in Providence, R.I., as well as Foxborough and Fall River, Mass.

Comments are closed.