Cuts to Health and Safety Programs Will Mean More Fatalities, Injuries
Workers Memorial Day is April 28, the anniversary of the effective date of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. An estimated 553,000 lives have been saved by the worker protections established in the OSHA regulations. Now these regulations are under attack. Resources to address safety hazards are being cut. UAW members face a host of hazards in every sector:
- Nurses at St Vincent’s Medical Center (Local 2213) in Toledo, Ohio, have been injured and lost time due to back injuries and a broken arm when they have had to struggle with violent patients. OSHA has stopped all work on the standard to address workplace violence.
- UAW workers in Indiana at Intat Foundry (Local 2275) are exposed to beryllium dust at an aerospace plant. Indiana OSHA refused to cite the company for using compressed air to clean the dusty equipment. The new beryllium standard that would make such exposures illegal is being targeted for rollback.
- Warehouse and transportation workers suffer the highest rate of fatalities (13.8 per 100,000 workers) and our members in Puerto Rico who work at the island’s Department of Agriculture are working in warehouses with no roofs, no electricity and on dangerous roads even now, months after the hurricanes destroyed the island. Cafeteria workers are feeding the homeless in school cafeterias with no power and limited clean water when they themselves are homeless. FEMA is abandoning our members.
- Factory workers continue to be killed and maimed from automated equipment. Shipping and receiving docks have proved deadly in the past two years.
- In 2016, the last year for which data is available, there was a 13 percent increase in workplace fatalities from 2013.
No one can argue with the fact that OSHA regulations save lives. And in testimony before Congress, George Washington University professor David Michaels pointed out that there is no evidence that OSHA standards kill jobs. The truth is that, “OSHA standards don’t kill jobs. They stop jobs from killing workers.” OSHA standards are really “worker protections” and, “When you hear someone talk about rolling back OSHA regulations, they’re really talking about endangering workers.”
Michaels points out that when OSHA was formed 48 years ago 14,000 workers were killed on the job. That is an annual rate of 18 deaths per 100,000 workers or 38 workers killed every day. This is more than double the number of workers (6,081) killed that year on the battlefield in Vietnam. Through a combination of OSHA regulations and enforcement, as well as the concerted efforts of labor unions and their allies, the workplace fatality rate has plummeted to 5,190 deaths on the job or 14 deaths per day. The U.S. workforce has doubled since the 1970s, so the current rate is five times lower (3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers). If you talk to the families of those workers maimed and killed on the job, these numbers are far from comforting.
The devastation felt by coworkers and families drains the pages of numbers of meaning. A single death of a coworker, a mother, father, son or daughter is one too many. And UAW members have suffered many traumatic injuries which could have led to death if not for emergency responders and advances in medical treatment.
- A new worker at Intat Foundry (Local 2275) in Indiana was on the job five hours when he was struck by a fork truck. He lost his leg.
- A worker at RIM Technologies (Local 771) was burned when his synthetic work shirt touched a propane heater. Management had installed dangerous and illegal heaters because they were too cheap to safely heat the building in the dead of winter.
- A worker was struck by the automated material handling shuttle in a warehouse and was dragged through the parts rack and impaled.
All accidents and injuries are preventable. Workers Memorial Day reminds us, UAW members must always be vigilant and always work toward the main goal—coming home safely each and every day.
Much Work Remains to Be Done
- Workers need more job safety and health protection, not less.
- New Occupational Safety and Heath Administration’s (OSHA) rules on silica, beryllium and injury reporting/anti-retaliation must be defended and fully implemented.
- Rules on infectious diseases, combustible dust and chemical safety should be completed and issued.
- Workplace violence is a growing and serious threat — particularly to women workers and workers in the health care industry.
- Workplace violence is the No. 1 cause of death for women on the job. OSHA must keep its promise to develop a workplace violence standard.
- Funding and staffing at job safety agencies should be increased, not cut.
- The serious safety and health problems faced by Latino, immigrant and aging workers must be given increased attention.
- “Regulatory reform” legislation that would require the repeal of existing rules and make it more difficult, if not impossible, to issue new regulatory safeguards should be opposed and stopped.
- Congress should pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act (S. 1000/H.R. 914) to extend the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s coverage to workers who are currently excluded, strengthen civil and criminal penalties for violations, enhance anti-discrimination protections, and strengthen the rights of workers, unions and victims.
- Congress needs to also pass S. 1122/H.R. 2428 to reverse a misguided law passed last year that drastically weakened OSHA’s record-keeping standards that have been in place since the early 1970s.
- The nation must renew its commitment to protect workers from injury, disease and death, and make this protection a high priority.
UAW Health and Safety Department