Job safety worsens under Bush

Job safety and health under the Bush administration features less enforcement and increased big business clout, a new AFL-CIO report titled Death on the Job: A Toll of Neglect, says. The report was released as unions across the country celebrated Worker’s Memorial Day on April 28.

It noted that in 2001, the most recent statistics available, deaths on the job stayed virtually constant from the year before, at 5,920. But that doesn’t count the 2,886 people killed on the job when terrorist-commandeered airliners destroyed New York’s World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Meanwhile job injuries declined slightly. That’s because companies could keep workers on the job while hurt.

Enforcement declined, both by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and in the states, the report said. GOP governors in Minnesota and Vermont, citing budget deficits, proposed dumping their state OSHA programs back on the federal government, but unions and their allies beat the efforts.

“Employers must stop exploiting workers and improve workplace safety, and the government must do more to hold employers accountable,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said.

But the employers are still exploiting workers and Bush isn’t stopping them, the report adds.

“In just two and a half years, Bush repealed the ergonomics standard and [has] gone back on its promise to seriously address the issue,” the report states.

By halting action on other standards, including one covering tuberculosis and another requiring employers to buy protective equipment for threatened workers, the administration is “abandoning or delaying action on many important worker protection measures,” it says.

Bush’s inaction on the protective equipment standard forced the UFCW and eight other groups to sue for its production.

Other key points included:

* Alaska had the worst job fatality rate, 22.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. Massachusetts had the best: 1.6 per 100,000.

* Occupational diseases – such as asbestos afflicting former shipyard and construction workers, black lung disease that kills ex-miners and radiation illnesses that kill uranium workers – claim an estimated 50,000-60,000 workers yearly.

* One-fourth of fatal work injuries, 1,404, were from highway crashes. Construction had 1,225 deaths, the largest absolute number and “a record high,” the report said. It accounted 21 percent of all workplace fatalities.

* Fatal on-the-job falls increased by 10 percent, to 808.

* Deaths among Hispanic workers rose by 9 percent, from 815 in 2000 to 891 in 2001. In prior years, Hispanic construction workers were killed in rising numbers. Last year, the increase was due to more deaths in services and agriculture.

* Federal safety inspection time, violations and fines all declined. From 1999 to 2001, the average number of hours per job safety inspection dropped from 22 to 19.1. Health inspection hours dropped from 40 to 32.7. OSHA citations for willful violations dropped by 36 percent from 1999 to 2002, from 607 to 392. The average fine dropped by 19 percent.

* 2001 saw 5.2 million injuries and illnesses in private workplaces and another 639,500 among workers in state and local governments in 29 states. The other 21, plus Washington, D.C., do not report local government job injury and illness data.

But the injury and illness data is incomplete, the AFL-CIO study says. Using ergonomics as an example, it showed a decrease in injuries and wide underreporting.

In 2001, 522,528 workers lost time from their jobs due to ergonomic, or repetitive-motion, injuries. That’s down 9.6 percent from 2000. Ergonomics still accounted for more than one-third of injuries that force workers to lose job time.

“But the numbers and rates of MSDs (ergonomic injuries) reported only represent part of the problem. They do not include injuries suffered by public workers or postal workers, nor do they reflect underreporting by employers,” it said.

“Based on studies and experience, OSHA estimated for every reported MSD there is another one not recorded or reported.”

And in an indication of the Bush administration’s attitude, ergonomics enforcement has become “voluntary” with a program covering only part of one of the most-hazardous industries – nursing homes – and programs planned for three others, including shipyards. Unions representing workers in those industries were left out of program creation, the report notes.

Reprinted from Press Associates, Inc.