Workers’ Memorial Day: Immigrants and seniors face biggest risk of death at work


By Sheri Williams

Thirteen workers in America die on the job each day – amounting to nearly 5,000 people a year – with immigrants and seniors at the highest risk.

The staggering statistics were released by the AFL-CIO to highlight International Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28, a day of remembrance for women and men killed and injured at work. The day also serves as a call to action to improve and protect workers’ safety.

“As the federal government pushes to de-regulate and weaken worker protections, it is imperative that we organize, resist, and fight to keep our workplaces safe,” said Sacramento Central Labor Council Executive Director Fabrizio Sasso. “Every worker deserves to come home to their family each night.”

About 4,836 workers died from an occupational injury in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly 3.7 million work-related injuries and illnesses were also reported.

“President Trump has moved aggressively on his deregulatory agenda, repealing and delaying worker safety and other rules and proposing deep cuts in the budget, and the elimination of worker safety and health training and other programs,” said the AFL-CIO report.

The building and construction trades remained one of the most dangerous set of jobs for workers: 937 construction workers were killed in 2015, the highest number in any sector, according to the AFL-CIO report. The number and rate of construction deaths increased for the second year in a row.

“All of us in the trades know that our work is physical and dangerous,” said Sacramento-Sierra Building and Construction Trades director Kevin Ferreira. “That’s why our council fights everyday for safe conditions and contracts that protect our rights.”

The report also found that immigrants and seniors were at the greatest risk for workplace deaths. Latino workers have an 18 percent higher fatality rate than the national average.

Sixty-seven percent of Latinos killed at work were immigrants, accounting for 605 fatalities across the country.

In all, 943 immigrant workers of all ethnicities were killed on the job — the highest since 2007.

Older workers – those 65 or older – also faced a disproportionate risk. They were 2.5 times more likely to die on the job than their younger counterparts. In all, 35 percent of all fatalities occurred in workers ages 55 or older, accounting for 1,681 deaths.

For women, the greatest risk on the job was violence. Women suffered 68 percent of the lost-time injuries related to workplace violence.

Sadly, penalties against employers for unsafe working conditions remained light.

The median penalty for killing a worker was $6,500 for federal OSHA, the report found. At the state level, the median penalty for killing a worker was $2,500 for OSHA state plans. Only 93 worker death cases have been criminally prosecuted under the Occupational Safety and Health Act since 1970.

The AFL-CIO cautioned that worker safety would likely not improve under the Trump administration.

“President Trump has moved aggressively on his deregulatory agenda, repealing and delaying worker safety and other rules and proposing deep cuts in the budget, and the elimination of worker safety and health training and other programs,” said the report.

Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, 2017

The Trump administration and the Republican majority in Congress have launched a major assault on regulatory protections. They have moved aggressively to roll back regulations and block new protections. Agency budgets and programs are on the chopping block. Worker protections are threatened, and workers’ safety and health are in danger. Major actions taken to date with a direct impact on worker safety and health include:

  • A presidential memorandum issued on Jan. 20, 2017, directing agencies to freeze the regulatory process and delay the effective date of final rules not yet in effect.
  • Executive Order 13771, issued Jan. 24, 2017, requires that for every new regulatory protection issued, two existing safeguards must be repealed.
  • Repeal of OSHA’s rule clarifying an employer’s obligation to keep accurate injury and illness records.
    Repeal of a rule that would have required companies to disclose safety and health and labor violations in order to qualify for federal contracts.
  • Delay in the effective date of OSHA’s new beryllium standard and delay in the enforcement of OSHA’s silica standard in the construction industry. The delay in the silica rule will allow continued high exposures that will lead to 160 worker deaths.
  • Budget proposals to slash the Department of Labor’s budget by 21 percent, eliminate worker safety and health training programs, eliminate the Chemical Safety Board and cut the job safety research budget by $100 million.

Courtesy of the AFL-CIO

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