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May 24, 2013

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US work-related death rate six times higher than the UK

The rate of fatal injuries to workers in the United States has not improved over the last three years, and the cost of work-related injuries and illnesses now amounts to some $300 billion (£200bn) a year, according to the body that represents America’s unions.

In a substantial report on the state of health and safety protections for America’s workers the AFL-CIO says although conditions have improved since the Occupational Safety and Health Act came into force in 1970, but too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death.

Death on the job: the toll of neglect reveals that in 2011, according to final fatality data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4693 workers were killed on the job — an average of 13 a day and corresponding to an incidence rate of 3.5 per 100,000 workers. This is almost six times the UK rate of 0.6 per 100,000 workers and it has not changed in the past three years.

In addition, says the report, an estimated 50,000 people died from occupational diseases and more than 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported — though this grossly understates the actual problem, according to the AFL-CIO. By comparison, in the UK in 2011/12 there were 1.1 million cases of work-related illness and 323,000 reportable and over-three-day injuries.

As well as comprehensive data this year’s edition of the report, which the AFL-CIO has produced every year for the last 21, details the reasons behind the figures and what needs to be done to save lives.

Among the unions’ main concerns are the “woefully inadequate” number of workplace inspections, the too-low level of penalties imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) — the average federal penalty for a serious violation of the law in 2012 was $2156 (£1431) — and the weakness of criminal penalties under the 1970 Act.

AFL-CIO is most worried about the current Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which, it says, since its election in 2010, has threatened progress made in health and safety by the Obama (Democrat) administration. The report says: “Business groups and Republicans have launched a major assault on regulations and have targeted key OSHA and Mine Safety and Health Administration rules.

“In the face of these attacks, progress on developing and issuing many important safety and health rules has stalled, particularly at OSHA.”

The report cites recent tragedies such as the 2010 explosion in the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, in which 29 miners died, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and the more recent fertilizer-factory blast in Texas as evidence that more needs to be done.

It calls for the passing of the Protecting America’s Workers Act to strengthen the now “out of date” OSHA 1970, claiming “only then can the promise of safe jobs for all of America’s workers be fulfilled”.

To download the full report — which details fatalities, injuries and illnesses by type/cause, sector, state, gender and ethnic origin — click here.

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