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National COSH on 4,800+ Workplace Deaths in 2015: A “National Disgrace” That Demands Tougher Regulation and Enforcement

Friday, December 16, 2016
Press Contacts: 

Roger Kerson, roger@nationalcosh.org, 734.645.0535

Nominee for Labor Secretary Must Address Safety Issues During Confirmation Hearings 

San Diego, CA – The toll of 4,836 deaths in 2015 due to traumatic workplace injuries, released today by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows the need for tough regulations and strict enforcement of safety laws, says the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH).

“It’s a tragedy – and a national disgrace – that almost all of these deaths could have been prevented, using safety protocols that are well-known across the industries and workplaces where workers lost their lives,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of National COSH. “These numbers are horrible, but more even more heartbreaking are the stories of these workers and their families, who will suffer from lapses in health and safety. This is no time to roll back safety regulations. Instead, we need tough enforcement, including criminal prosecution of employers who willfully ignore safety laws.  And the best practice – by far – to improve workplace safety is to empower workers to recognize and prevent occupational hazards.”

The number of deaths due to workplace trauma was the highest recorded since 2008. In addition, more African American workers died on the job than in any year since 2008, and more Hispanic or Latino workers were killed at work than in any year since 2007.

The continued epidemic of preventable deaths in the workplace, said National COSH co-executive director Jessica Martinez, must be addressed during upcoming confirmation hearings for secretary of labor nominee Andrew Pudzer.

“Mr. Pudzer is chief executive of a fast food company, and we know that fast food is an industry with a very high rate of worker injuries,” said Martinez.  A survey of fast food workers, conducted by National COSH and the Fight for $15 campaign in March 2015 showed that 79 percent of fast-food injuries had suffered burns on the job, with 73 percent suffering multiple burns.

One-third of fast-food worker surveyed reported inappropriate treatment for their injuries, including suggestions from managers to use condiments such as mustard, ketchup or mayonnaise instead of a burn cream.

“It’s important to hear from Mr. Pudzer about what action he has taken to reduce workplace injuries and fatalities during his tenure in the fast food industry,” said Martinez. “American workers and families are counting on strong protections, so every worker can come home safely at the end of his or her shift. We’d like to hear a specific plan from the nominee for secretary of labor about steps to reduce workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities.”

The next secretary of labor, when confirmed, will appoint a new chief for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), compiled by the BLS, includes workplace deaths from across the United States resulting from traumatic events such as falls from height, roadway incidents, workers struck by objects and equipment, and homicides.  It does not include workers who die from long-term exposure to workplace hazards, such as toxic chemicals that cause fatal diseases of the lung, kidney, heart and other organs.

According to one recent estimate, more than 98,000 U.S. workers died in 2012 from long-term illnesses linked to hazardous working conditions.

National COSH maintains the U.S. Worker Fatality Database at www.nationalcosh.org.  It features data on workplace deaths from 2014 and 2015, with some information not included in the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.  This includes –where available – names of fallen workers and circumstances of their deaths.

National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.