In the 15th edition of their study on the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers, the AFL-CIO found an increase in workplace fatalities in 2004 according to the 2006 edition of “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.” Based on the most recent job fatality data—from 2004—fatal injuries sustained in workplaces in the United States have increased with 5,703 injuries being reported in 2004, with significant increases among Hispanic and foreign-born workers. According to the data, an average of 16 workers per day were fatally injured in 2004 while 12,000 workers were injured or made ill each day. Since 2003, the number of deaths increased from 5,575 representing a 2% increase in the national fatality rate per 100,000 workers. This was the first increase since 1994.
Michigan was ranked eighth as one of the states with the lowest state fatality rates with a fatality rate of 2.6 workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2004, compared to a national average of 4.1. Among Michigan’s 4.3 million employees in 2004, there were only 126 workplace fatalities according to numbers tabulated by the study. However, there is still considerable room for improvement in Michigan with the average penalty assessed for serious Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) violations being only $479 compared to a national average of $883 in 2005. The state also only has 76 workplace safety and health inspectors, with those inspectors conducting 4,534 workplace inspections in 2005—a rate that would take OSHA 56 years to inspect every Michigan workplace.
Fatal injuries to Hispanic or Latino workers continued to grow with an 11% increase from 2003, with Hispanic or Latino workers having a fatal injury rate 19% higher than the rate for all US workers. The study also tabulates the most dangerous sectors and industries of the economy, construction being the most dangerous sector of the economy with 1,224 fatal injuries. Other industries near the top of the list included transportation and warehousing, mining, and “agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting.” Not only is there a moral cost for failing to address the increase in workplace fatalities, but there is also a significant financial burden with the costs of occupational injuries and illnesses costing between $150 and $300 billion annually.
Since taking office in 2001, President George W. Bush has cut the federal OSHA budget by 3% and favored voluntary efforts aimed at improved workplace safety by employers, a fact that may account for the increase in workplace fatalities. In its 2007 fiscal year budget, the Bush administration is seeking the elimination of OSHA worker safety and health training and education programs. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is due for a 1% budget increase under the Bush administration’s 2007 fiscal year budget, but since the administration took office, the MSHA’s coal enforcement budget—recently the target of significant attention—has been cut by 9%.