AFL-CIO official says too many still dying on job

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Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013 12:00 am

Nebraska ranks in the middle of the pack for worker fatalities and Iowa near the bottom, according to the country’s largest organized labor group.

The AFL-CIO said Wednesday that 39 Nebraskans died on the job in 2011, for a fatality rate of 3.9 deaths per 100,000 workers. That ranks Nebraska 26th, the labor group said, with first being the safest state and 50th the most dangerous.

Iowa fared far worse than its western neighbor, ranking 42nd, with 93 deaths in 2011. That works out to 6.3 deaths per 100,000 workers.

“Too many people are dying on the job right here in Nebraska, and a lot of work still needs to be done to ensure that no worker fears for his or her health and well-being on the job,” said Nebraska AFL-CIO President Ken Mass. “Many workers are still unable to have a voice on the job and to advocate for better working conditions.”

The AFL-CIO report used information collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another federal agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is charged with enforcing labor safety laws. Chronic understaffing keeps that from happening as it should, the AFL-CIO said.

“Due to lack of staffing it would take the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 112 years to inspect each workplace in Nebraska once,” the labor group said.

Officials with OSHA’s regional office in Chicago did not respond to a request for comment.

For Iowa, comprehensive state workplace inspection would take 89 years, according to the report.

North Dakota led the country with the highest fatality rate, 12.4 per 100,000, followed by Wyoming at 11.6 and Montana at 11.2. The lowest state fatality rate was New Hampshire’s, at 1.2 per 100,000, closely followed by Rhode Island, Washington and Connecticut. The national rate for all of the states is 3.5 deaths per 100,000 workers, the AFL-CIO said.

Nationally, there were 4,693 workplace deaths due to traumatic injuries in 2011, the AFL-CIO said.

Such numbers have dropped from decades ago. In 1913, 23,000 U.S. workers died from industrial injuries, according to the Center for Disease Control’s 1999 report on the subject. That works out to 61 deaths per 100,000 workers. From 1933 through 1997, CDC said, deaths from workplace injuries declined 90 percent, to four per 100,000 workers.

“There has been progress,” said Janet Golden, a historian at Rutgers University-Camden who specializes in the history of workplace safety. “You can thank social reformers and labor unions, for the most part.”

Golden said U.S. companies doing business around the world need to export U.S. safety attitudes to their overseas operations. She said people in places such as Bangladesh, where a factory collapse last month killed at least 800 people, will eventually demand the same treatment as workers elsewhere.

“We won’t have to pay that much more for clothing and other goods,” Golden said. “In the end, what is a life worth in comparison. The stockholders won’t suffer that much.”

Recent work-related deaths in Nebraska and Iowa include a father and son who died in March while working on a grain bin at their family milling company in Waverly, Iowa. October 2012 was a bad month, when a Cass County, Neb., forklift operator died at a quarry, a man was killed in an accident at the Nucor Steel plant in Norfolk, Neb., and a seed company worker was pronounced dead after being run over by a combine near Geneva, Neb.

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