On Oct. 6, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO) released its annual report on the state of safety and health protections for U.S. workers – Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.
This 29th edition of this yearly report reviewed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on workplace safety. Features include: State and federal data on worker injuries, illness, fatalities, as well as worker protections. The report also examines the industries most affected by the pandemic.
The ALF-CIO is made up of 55 national and international unions, representing more than 12 million active and retired workers.
Counting the Numbers in High-Risk Industries
One industry highlighted in the report — in which there were more than 175,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported between May 24 and September 6, in addition to nearly 121,000 suspected cases and 868 deaths — was the nursing home & long-term care.
Also featured was the health care industry, which has been at the forefront of the pandemic. Headlines have told the story of overworked staff and a significant lack of PPE, and the data follows suit. The report shows that at least 163,000 healthcare workers had been infected, and 713 had died, as of Sept. 24.
Other high risk industries, such as meatpacking, food processing and farming, reported more than 58,000 infections and 238 deaths between April 22 to Sept. 16.
What Makes a Workplace Susceptible to Outbreaks?
AFL-CIO Director of Occupational Safety and Health Rebecca Reindel said that around 7.4 million people across the United States have tested positive for COVID-19, and nearly 210,000 have died.
“The pandemic has only emphasized what we already know,” Reindel said. “Workplaces are a major source of COVID outbreaks, and workplaces are inextricably linked with the safety of our families and our communities. So, preventing workplace exposures is key to stopping the spread of the virus.”
The work environments where workers were most susceptible had several things in common. Mainly, they include indoor workplaces, poorly ventilated areas and/or crowded working conditions, and environments where workers were in close proximity to infected individuals.
Looking Back on Years Past
The most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics comes from 2018, where 5,250 workers died on the job.
The report includes that an additional estimated 95,000 people died as a result of occupational diseases. Breaking it down, that means 275 workers died each day. The rate of workers with occupational injuries and illnesses was reported at approximately 3.5 million. However, this number may actually be much larger, up to 10.5 million, due to underreporting.
While COVID-19 is a large risk to the nation’s workers, it is certainly not the only risk. Other key stats from 2018 reveal that there is much work to be done outside of the hazards and risks of a pandemic:
- Workplace violence accounted for 828 deaths, including 453 homicides. Workplace violence was the second leading cause of occupational fatalities, behind transportation incidents (2,080 deaths).
- Deaths among Black workers increased to 615 from 530 in 2017. That total is a 46% increase from 10 years ago.
- Deaths among Latino workers increased to 961 from 903 in 2017. Deaths among Latino immigrant workers were the major contributor to this increase (641 compared with 568 in 2017).
- A third of the fatalities involved workers 55 and older, while those 65 or older had a fatality rate of 9.6 per 100,000 workers. The overall fatality rate was 3.5 per 100,000 workers.
- States with the highest fatality rates were Wyoming (11.5 per 100,000 workers), Alaska (9.9), North Dakota (9.6), West Virginia (7.9) and South Dakota (6.9).
- Federal OSHA had 746 inspectors – the lowest total since the early 1970s. The total number of workplace safety and health inspectors nationwide was 1,767, which included State Plan states. Those inspectors were responsible for 9.9 million workplaces under OSHA’s jurisdiction.
- The cost of workplace injuries and illnesses is estimated to be $250 billion to $330 billion annually.
“Nearly 50 years after the passage of the nation’s job safety laws, the toll of workplace injury, illness and death remains too high, and too many workers remain at serious risk,” the report stated.
“There is much more work to be done.”
About Worksite Medical
In most cases, OSHA requires medical surveillance testing, and at no cost to employees.
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