(Cross-posted from the Center for Effective Government Blog)
by Katie Weatherford, 4/28/2014
April 28 is Worker’s Memorial Day, an international day for remembering workers who have been injured or killed as a result of on-the-job incidents or long-term occupational illnesses. On this day, we also celebrate the substantial progress made in protecting workers over the forty-plus years since theOccupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) was enacted and remember how critical it is to continue the important work of ensuring our workers’ health and safety.
In advance of Workers Memorial Day, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) released its annual report, 2014 Preventable Deaths: The Tragedy of Workplace Fatalities. Among many highlights, the report provides case studies of seven workers who died in 2013 and 2014. Notably, each of these individuals was employed in very different occupational settings, from a warehouse worker to a cinematographer to an airport baggage handler, showing how “any job can become dangerous at a moment’s notice.”
These seven workers are representative of thousands of workers who die every year in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,383 workers were killed on the job in 2012, which means that every day, 12 workers did not return home to their loved ones. In addition to on-the-job deaths, 50,000-plus workers die every year from long-term occupational illnesses.
Considering the 14,000 workplace deaths that occurred in 1970, it is clear that the OSH Act has played a significant role in reducing workplace deaths and improving worker health and safety. In fact, more than 492,000 workers’ lives have been saved since the OSH Act became law. It is crucial that this progress continue so that when someone leaves for work, they can rest assured they will return home safely at the end of the day.
Unfortunately, Congress has not provided OSHA with the resources it needs to carry out the agency’s important work. OSHA’s budget has continued to decline every year since 2010. The agency also lacks the staffing it needs to inspect the approximately 9 million workplaces across the country. At present, OSHA operates with only 2,200 federal and state inspectors who oversee more than 130 million workers, or one inspector for every 59,000 workers. This means that each workplace might only be inspected once every 105 years. Clearly OSHA needs more, not fewer, resources for its inspection and enforcement activities. (For a visual representation of these numbers, check out our Workers Memorial Day infographic here).
This Workers Memorial Day, let’s remember our friends, family members, and colleagues who have been killed or injured at work. Starting April 29, let us join together to redouble our efforts to protect workers and ensure that worker fatalities, injuries, and illnesses continue to decline every year by demanding Congress give OSHA the resources it needs to continue its critical work.