2019 Dying for Work in Massachusetts: Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces

April 30, 2019

On October 6, 2018, Jose Luis Phinn Williams of Dorchester, was shot and killed on the job just days shy of his 68th birthday. He was working at Fabian Gas Station as an attendant, a job he held for 10 years. This was the second time he was attacked at the gas station. In 2016, after being mugged on Halloween, he suffered a concussion that kept him out of work for six months. Jose’s murder left his family devastated. “He was a hard worker, good father, friendly, lovable — everything that’s good on earth. Now, he’s gone,” said Rose Phinn-Westby, his sister.

Today, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) released a new report documenting the loss of life taking place at worksites across Massachusetts. Titled Dying for Work in Massachusetts: Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces, the 28-page report details how workers like Williams lost their lives on the job and what must be done to keep workers safe. Copy and paste the following to review the report: https://www.mediafire.com/file/9atia38h64oh4o3/DFW_april19_web_4.25.pdf/...

(The file is hosted by MediaFire due to Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) website file size constraints. Email jeff.newton@masscosh.org if you are experiencing issues.)

Williams was one of the 69 workers in Massachusetts who died of documented occupational injuries or disease sustained on the job in 2018. He was also one of the nine workers to die as a result of workplace violence. This figure is almost double the number of those who died from workplace violence in 2017, which was double the number of workers killed by violence in 2016.

The report highlights several findings, including:
•    Worker deaths in Massachusetts were once again concentrated in the construction industry (21 lives lost), with construction deaths accounting for 36% of workers fatally injured on the job.
•    17 fatal transportation incidents, which includes motor vehicle crashes and workers struck by vehicles or moving equipment, were the leading cause of death from dangerous work, contributing to 29% of all worker deaths.
•    Since 2011, 35 workers were killed as a result of violence in the workplace in Massachusetts.
•    10 firefighters died from work-related disease, including Susan Pipitone, Everett Fire Department’s first and only active-duty female firefighter, when she died on August 1, 2018 from occupational cancer.
•    In the most recent year for which data sets are available, there were more than 73,300 recordable incidents of non-fatal occupational injuries and illnesses in Massachusetts.

After Massachusetts experienced a 11-year high in its worker fatality rate last year (74), work-related deaths are down but not by much. In 2017, 2.1 workers suffered fatal injuries per 100,000 workers, in 2018 that figure is 1.9.

The report continues to investigate the effects the opioid epidemic is having on workplace safety. The most recent and complete data available shows that in 2017, fatal overdoses and suicides claimed 39 workers. While the impact of the opioid crisis is extremely hard to comprehend, one root cause is simple to understand - pain. Opioid users seek a remedy to lessen their acute and chronic pain. Emerging research supports this: workers who have higher risk of pain because of workplace injury are also at higher risk of opioid misuse and overdose. Construction has an injury rate that is 77% higher than the national average. In MA, construction workers die from overdose at six times the average of other industries. The opioid overdose rate is higher among lower-wage workers.

“The figures found in this year’s report are sobering,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan. “Every number referenced was a fellow working person who is no longer with us due to dangerous work. We owe it to them and ourselves to push for the policies and protections we press for in this report because, even in 2019, killer jobs are still very much a thing and far too many of us are dying for a paycheck.”

Also reviewed is the role the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) plays after a worker is killed, including fines it is able to levy against employers who are found responsible for creating unsafe workplaces. For the 2018 fatalities, OSHA has settled 18 cases against employers, with an average final penalty of just $31,294.

The release of Dying for Work coincides with Workers’ Memorial Day, an event observed around the world every year on April 28 to remember workers killed and injured on the job. In Boston, Workers’ Memorial Day was commemorated Friday, April 26 at noon on the steps of the State House, and was observed by slain workers’ family members, union representatives, safety experts, and state officials.

“We mourn for the workers lost this year and their families,” said Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven A. Tolman. “Every single workplace death is one too many. We must continue to work with our federal delegation to improve conditions, despite the Trump Administration’s attempts to move us backwards. We need Massachusetts to be a beacon of hope and I urge leaders to enact legislation that will provide every worker in the Commonwealth with the safe work environment that they deserve.”

The report uncovers a broad range of state legislative bills that would avert needless loss of life and limb on the job, including:
•    An Act Requiring Health Care Employers to Develop and Implement Programs to Prevent Workplace Violence (SD 1281/HD802) requires health care employers to perform an annual safety risk assessment and, based on those findings, develop and implement programs to minimize the danger of workplace violence to employees and patients.
•    An Act Protecting Injured Workers (D1182/HD2947) strengthens anti-retaliation law, provides for an administrative complaint and investigation mechanism for enforcement, and otherwise addresses employer misconduct that prevents workers from receiving timely medical care and benefits.
•    An Act Relative to Workplace Safety (SD1322/HD3015) will require companies seeking to do business with the Commonwealth or seeking a trenching permit to report their record of safety violations. The Commonwealth will be able to avoid contracting with companies with a poor record of safety, thereby preventing future injuries and deaths.
•    An Act to Prevent Wage Theft, Promote Employer Accountability, and Enhance Public Enforcement (SD 1464/ HD 3789) will protect workers and enhance enforcement in several important ways: (1) Increased Employer Accountability; (2) Enhanced Public Enforcement (3); Ensuring Timely Payment.
•    An Act to Protect Children, Families, and Firefighters from Harmful Flame Retardants (SD1573/HD3012) bans the sale of certain harmful flame retardant chemicals in children's products and residential furniture. It is a practical, feasible step toward protecting the health and safety of firefighters and the public.

About the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH)
MassCOSH is a nonprofit coalition, bringing together workers, unions, community groups, and health, safety and environmental activists to organize and advocate for safe, secure jobs and healthy communities throughout eastern and central Massachusetts. Through training, technical assistance and building community/labor alliances, MassCOSH mobilizes its members and develops leaders in the movement to end unsafe work conditions. For more information, contact 617-825-7233x14 or visit www.masscosh.org.