When President Obama eulogized the 29 dead miners of the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion this weekend, he noted that no one should “put their lives at risk by simply showing up to work.”
How can we fail them? How can a nation that relies on its miners not do everything in its power to protect them? How can we let anyone in this country put their lives at risk by simply showing up to work; by simply pursuing the American dream?
Unfortunately, it’s not just miners who fear for their lives while making a paycheck; deaths on the job are unfortunately entirely too common. In its annual report on worker deaths, the AFL-CIO found that 5,214 workers died on the job in 2008. That’s 14 people a day.
Each workday, it’s likely that 14 workers won’t come home because they will be killed on the job, according to the most recent statistics. The AFL-CIO’s 19th annual workplace safety report, “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” also reports that in 2008, along with the 5,214, workers killed, another 50,000 workers died from occupational diseases, while at least 4.6 million workers were reported injured, unreported injuries could push that total to as many as 14 million workers. [...]
“Death on the Job” also reports that Latino workers are most in danger of dying at the workplace. In 2008, the fatality rate among these workers was 4.2 per 100,000 workers, 13.5 percent higher than the fatal injury rate for all U.S. workers.
You’d think that deaths in the workplace would be cause for some concern for both the businesses involved and the government. Think again. Paltry penalties and scattered enforcement make it almost impossible to get real accountability for workplace deaths.
When workers are killed on the job, the report notes that employers face “incredibly weak penalties.” The median penalty in 2009 was just $5,000 in fatality cases investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). In 2009, when an employer was cited for a serious safety violation, the average OSHA penalty was just $965.
In addition, the report says OSHA’s inspector workforce is “woefully inadequate,” with just 2,218 inspectors to monitor the 8 million workplaces that fall under OSHA’s jurisdictions.
Today is Workers’ Memorial Day – to honor those who died, and to fight for the living, urge for passage of the Protecting America’s Workers Act.