In 2012, 4628 workers were killed on the job, which made an average of 13 deaths a day, according to a new report from the AFL-CIO. An estimated additional 50,000 workers died from occupational diseases, or an average of 137 deaths a day. All told, an estimated 150 workers died each day last year due to working conditions.
The report notes that the fatality rate for people who died on the job hasn’t changed for the past four years, and the 2012 rate of 3.4 deaths for every 100,000 workers was about the same as the year before. Latino workers are at the highest risk of dying on the job, with a rate of 3.7 per 100,000 workers and 748 killed in 2012, although their rate has fallen by 38 percent since 2001.
There were also a reported 3.8 million injuries and illnesses related to work in 2012. But the report notes, “Due to limitations in the current injury reporting system and widespread underreporting of workplace injuries, this number understates the problem,” and estimates that the real number is probably two to three times bigger, somewhere between 7.6 million and 11.4 million.
The estimated cost of all job injuries and illnesses from medical expenses and lost productivity comes to somewhere between $250 billion and $350 billion a year.
One growing problem is not just accidents, but violence. More than 800 people were killed on the job from workplace violence in 2012 and 24,610 suffered serious injuries. This problem falls disproportionately on women workers, who suffered two-thirds of those injuries. Homicide was the leading cause of death for women who died on the job in 2012, accounting for 28 percent of their fatalities. Still, men were at a much higher risk of death on the job generally, accounting for 92 percent of fatalities.
The state with the highest fatality rate in 2012 was North Dakota, whose 17.7 per 100,000 workers rate was the highest ever recorded for the state and one of the highest ever recorded for any state. It’s more than five times the national average. The fatality rate has also been on the rise, more than doubling since 2007, and the oil and gas boom may be a big reason. The fatality rate in the state’s mining and oil and gas extraction sector is 104 per 100,000 workers, more than six times the national rate for the industry. Even so, the industry nationally has one of the highest fatality rates at 15.9 per 100,000 workers.
There are federal agencies that are tasked with ensuring safety in the country’s workplaces, particularly the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). But the report notes that given that the agency has 1,955 inspectors to visit the 8 million workplaces under its purview, a workplace will only see a federal inspector once every 139 years on average and a state one every 79 years. There’s currently one federal or state OSHA inspector for every 67,847 workers.
This problem is easy to see in some of last year’s deadly accidents. A West, Texas fertilizer plant that exploded and killed 14 people that hadn’t been inspected by OSHA since 1985. A Louisiana chemical plant that exploded, killing one and injuring 73, hadn’t been inspected in two decades. A grain plant that exploded and killed one person had never been inspected.