Mass. releases critical report, observes Workers’ Memorial Day

April 28, 2014

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On October 22, 2013, authorities found the body of 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer behind the school she worked for as a teacher in Danvers, MA. A victim of workplace homicide, Ritzer became the 40th worker to be killed on the job in 2013. By the end of the year, eight more workers would lose their lives, bringing the total killed to 48.

On April 28, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupation Safety and Health (MassCOSH) released Dying for Work in Massachusetts: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces (click to view), a new report documenting the loss of life taking place at worksites across Massachusetts. The 27-page report details how workers like Ritzer lost their lives on the job in 2013 as well as what must be done to keep workers safe.
Dying for Work also highlights the startling rate at which occupational illnesses are killing workers. In 2013, the report estimates 480 workers died in Massachusetts from occupational disease. It also states a conservative estimate of 1,800 workers in Massachusetts who were newly diagnosed with cancers caused by workplace exposures, and 50,000 as the number of workers seriously injured on the job.
The report also highlights several additional concerning statistics, including:

  • Falls of all types caused almost one-fifth (9 out of 48) of all occupational fatalities in Massachusetts in 2013. Six of the nine falls occurred in the construction industry.
  • Being crushed in machines or struck by equipment was another leading cause of workplace deaths, accounting for nine worker deaths.
  • 19% of fallen workers were immigrants (9 out of 48), an increase from the previous year (9%) and greater than their representation in the state (14.4% in 2012)
  • OSHA lacks funding, staff and tools to deter violations. It would currently take over 100 years for OSHA to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction in Massachusetts.
  • In Massachusetts in 2013, the average fine (based on final penalties) assessed to an employer with OSHA violations resulting in the death of a worker was just $6,577. 

“Too often workplace fatalities are called ‘freak accidents’,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, Executive Director of MassCOSH.  “Calling it “freak” means that it has never happened before and will never happen again so there is no need to change anything.  This report confirms that most workplace deaths can be prevented if proper safety measures are implemented.”
Steven Tolman, President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO added that “one preventable workplace death is too many. Worker safety needs to be the main concern for our employers in Massachusetts. Safety regulations need to be strengthened and enforced to ensure our loved ones are not unnecessarily risking their lives by simply going to work.”
The release of Dying for Work in Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts, Workers’ Memorial Day was commemorated on the steps of the State House at noon and was observed by slain workers’ family members, union representatives, safety experts, and state officials.

To protect workers, the report stresses many actions be taken, including strengthened OSHA regulations and enforcement, including use of criminal prosecution to deter employers who recklessly endanger workers’ lives and passing legislation to extend OSHA protections to public employees.