A new report called “Dying for Work in Massachusetts” has been published by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and the Massachusetts branch of the AFL-CIO. The report finds that 32 workers died from occupational injuries in Massachusetts last year. This figure included firefighters, construction workers, fishing and transportation workers, and tree care. The number of deaths is actually down from 2011 when 58 workers in Massachusetts died, and also down from 2010 when 47 workers died. The report suggests that OSHA doesn’t have the teeth necessary to prevent all of these accidents, illnesses, and fatalities on its own.
Specifically, the OSHA fines are assessed too late to make an impact on policy. These fines usually aren’t big enough to effect a real change in attitude at the company. The average fine given by OSHA was only $9590 last year. While a fine of this size could conceivably make a dent with a small business, oftentimes this fine is negotiated down so that the small business does not pay this sum. This amount would have no impact on a large business.
The root problem never gets fixed as a result of a small fine; the employer views it just as the cost of doing business, instead of motivation to maintain better safety policies and a more protective stance towards worker safety. The highest fine OSHA gave a company in 2012 was $703,300. This was assessed against Tribe Mediterranean Foods when one of its workers got caught in a grinder and was killed.
For its part, OSHA believes employers, workers, unions and other groups interested in the welfare of workers should be doing more to protect workers and that “no one should die for a paycheck.”
The report estimates that there were 320 deaths from occupational diseases last year, as well as 1,800 cancer diagnoses. 50,000 others were hurt as a result of their jobs. Of the diseases contracted on the job, mesothelioma was more common in Massachusetts than it is on the national level. This higher rate of contracting mesothelioma might be because of the types of jobs in Massachusetts, such as construction and shipbuilding. Jobs in these areas often result in long-term exposure to asbestos, the cause of mesothelioma.
The most common cause of death, however, was falling; workers who were not complying with OSHA and were not wearing safety harnesses fell on the job. Other common causes of death were car and truck accidents.
The authors of the report suggested that Massachusetts should increase the number of days for employees to file for whistleblower protection. This would allow more job hazards to be reported. They suggested a bill that would apply OSHA to those public employers who are exempt at the moment. They also suggested OSHA increase its bilingual investigators in order to offer immigrant workers a meaningful opportunity to come forward. The authors suggested that in serious cases, those who violate OSHA should face criminal prosecution.
Among the reforms the report suggested is a new state law mandating that employers give temporary workers all details of their job assignments and increasing the workers compensation burial allowance to $8,000.
If you have suffered an injury in the workplace, we can help you resolve the legal issues that arise in this context. If you are concerned about an employer’s workers’ compensation coverage, ask the experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates what you should do. Call us at 617-367-0880 or contact us via our online form.