AFL-CIO: Trump job safety rollbacks endanger workers’ lives
A statue of a worker chiseling the message "Remembering Our Past... Building a Safe Future" on the side of the "100 Workers Monument" in Toronto, Canada. The brown granite and iron memorial, which stands outside the offices of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, bears plaques with the names and causes of death of 100 workers who lost their lives on the job in Ontario during the 20th century. | Toronto City Guide

WASHINGTON—Late in 2017, the most recent year for which federal data are available, Zachary Hess died on the job in Warren County, Ohio.

And the AFL-CIO is warning there could be more Zachary Hesses, thanks to Donald Trump.

Federation President Richard Trumka and the federation’s longtime Safety and Health Director, Peg Seminario, issued that warning at the April 25 telephone press conference to release Death On The Job, the federation’s 29th annual report on the state of job safety and health in the U.S. The report is in advance of Workers Memorial Day, April 28.

“Under the Trump administration, we’ve seen aggressive action to roll back health and safety standards,” Seminario said. Not only has Trump’s OSHA rolled back standards – or failed to enforce them – against hazards such as beryllium and inhalable dust, “but if they (Trump’s OSHA) stay on this pace, they will be the first administration not to issue a single workplace safety standard during its entire term.”

Hess was one of 5,147 workers killed on the job in 2017 –- an average of 275 every day — according to Death on The Job. The report adds there were 3.5 worker deaths per 100,000 workers that year, down 0.1 deaths per 100,000 from the year before.

“I’d caution you about not being numbed by the numbers,” Trumka said. “We’re talking about 275 workers a day who lost their lives and they shouldn’t have.”

One of those 275, Hess, suffered a particularly gruesome death, according to back editions of the Confined Space blog, then run by Jordan Barab, the Deputy Occupational Safety and Health Administrator during the Obama administration.

“Zachary Hess died in a trench collapse in Warren County, Ohio,” Barab, who was also former Safety and Health Director for AFSCME, wrote. “An estimated 150 people from rescue squads from around the area rushed to the scene in a vain attempt to rescue Hess. Despite firefighters clawing at the earth with their bare hands to get him out, the effort was hopeless. Hess was buried under tons of soil, 20 feet to 30 feet down. It took over 24 hours to recover the body.”

“What was especially infuriating about this death is that Hess’s employer, JK Excavating & Utilities of Mason, Ohio, was cited by OSHA just over three years ago for violations of OSHA’s trenching standard,” Barab wrote in January 2018.

“The company received a $13,300 penalty, later reduced to $5,850. Somehow, the message that trenches over five feet deep have to be protected didn’t sink in as the company sent Zachary Hess to his death in a 20 foot-30 foot, unprotected trench.”

Even more gruesome was another report from Barab’s blog: Domingo Alonzo Ramos, an undocumented Guatemalan worker toiling in the Fresh Mark meatpacking plant in Canton, Ohio, at about the same time, had his leg torn off when it was caught in a meat grinding machine.

His colleagues stopped the machine, but couldn’t stop the bleeding that killed Ramos. OSHA had cited Fresh Mark for violations, too, but Ramos was afraid to go to authorities about conditions, colleagues said. He feared the firm would call the feds to deport him.

That’s what happened to Jill Greninger, 35, at the Economy Locker Storage Company. In Muncy, Pa., too. She fell into a meat grinder. It took co-workers 45 minutes to disassemble it and retrieve her body. The difference: Greninger died April 22 of this year — three days before the federation issued its latest report.

And neither JK nor Fresh Mark was unionized, so Hess and Ramos had no protection from union contracts, health and safety committees, and contract enforcement, either.

Other key data from the report:

  • Calculations show a worker is 46% more likely to be killed on the job in a so-called “right to work” state, where even workers whom union contracts cover don’t have to pay one red cent for bargaining or contract enforcement. The overall 2017 fatality rate nationwide was 3.5 deaths per 100,000 workers.

But it was 5.1 deaths per 100,000 in RTW states, including 10.1 deaths per 100,000 in North Dakota (2nd worst) and 7.7 per 100,000 in Wyoming (3rd). Another RTW state, South Dakota (7.3 deaths per 100,000 workers) finished fifth.

The common characteristic of the top five – the other two were 1stplace Alaska and 4th-place West Virginia – was their domination by extractive industries, oil and coal. Coal mine deaths almost doubled, from eight in 2016 to 15 in 2017. The death rate for oil and coal was 12.9 per 100,000 workers.

  • OSHA has only 752 inspectors for nine million workplaces it must review, while states cover the others. That means it would take 165 years for OSHA to inspect all of them. It would take 277 years in Florida, 272 in Arkansas and 265 in Louisiana.
  • The federal figures don’t count those workers killed by diseases they contracted on the job years before – such as black lung victims or diseases that now fell first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. There were 95,000 such deaths in 2017, Death On The Job
  • The government figures the AFL-CIO cited included 3.5 million work-related injuries and illnesses. But, citing past studies, especially in Michigan, which look at workers’ comp claims, the federation says the real figure is two to three times as much.
  • The number of construction worker deaths declined, from 991 in 2016 to 971 last year, and the death rate dropped there, too, from 10.1 per 100,000 workers in 2016 to 9.5/100,000 in 2017.   But construction still accounted for more deaths than any other occupation.
  • Don’t farm, chop down trees, fish or hunt for a living. There were 581 deaths among those workers in 2017, and the death rate (23/100,000) was the highest of any sector.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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