The Occupational Health and Safety Act has promised American workers the right to a safe job since 1970, but with President Trump’s agenda, that could soon change. Since he took office, Trump has repeatedly delayed or repealed worker safety and other associated rules, and he has proposed the elimination of various worker safety programs as well as massive budget cuts. Such aggressive actions have left the future of worker safety and health protections in limbo.
Workers Remain at Serious Risk for Injury, Illness, and Death
Workplace injury, illness, and death continue to take a toll on workers in the United States, and despite efforts to improve work conditions, a lot still needs to be done. Recent reports reveal that an alarming 4,836 workers lost their lives due to on the job injuries in 2015 and occupational diseases took the lives of approximately 50,000 to 60,000 more. Additionally, there were about 3.7 million work-related injuries and illness reported that year. The true number of work injuries and illness is difficult to determine, however, because so many go unreported. It is estimated that there were around 7.4 to 11.1 million in 2015.
Certain Workers Are at a Higher Risk for Injuries and Illnesses than Others
Although anyone can become the victim of hazardous working conditions, some workers are more apt to suffer than others. Those at the highest risk include:
- Latino and immigrant workers tend to become injured or lose their lives to on the job injuries. In 2015, it was reported that 943 immigrant workers died on the job. The Latino fatality rate that year was 0.4 per 100,000- a whopping 18 percent higher than the national average.
- Older workers continue to be at a higher risk for work-related injuries and illnesses. In 2015, there were 1,681 fatalities among older workers, accounting for about 35 percent of all worker deaths. And workers who are 65 or older are about 2.5 times as likely to die on the job. The fatality rate for older workers is about 9.4 per 100,000.
- Construction, agriculture, and transportation remain some of the most dangerous occupations for workers. In 2015, there were 937 construction workers who lost their lives on the job. That is the highest number of deaths in any job. Additionally, 765 transportation and warehouse workers were killed in 2015, and another 570 agricultural workers died due to on the job injuries.
- While safety and health have improved, the mining industry is still extremely dangerous for workers. In 2015, the fatality rate for this field was 11.4 per 100,000- more than three times the national average. about 78 percent of deaths in the mining sector were in the oil and gas extraction industries.
- Workplace violence has continuously been a problem for workers, and the growing issue cost the lives of about 703 workers in 2015. Homicide in the workplace was the cause of about 417 fatalities, and violence at work led to around 26,420 lost-time injuries. Women workers were the victims of workplace violence in about 68 percent of cases.
Worker Safety and Health Protections are in Danger
Recent aggressive moves by Congress and the Trump Administration are threatening the safety of American workers. As they move to block new protections and rollback current regulations, the lives of workers throughout the nation could be in danger. Some of the major actions that have been taken so far that directly impact worker health and safety include:
- Delays in the effective dates for OSHA standards like the silica standard in the construction industry could cause about 160 worker deaths due to high exposures.
- Budget proposals could wreak havoc on worker safety. Proposals have been made to cut the Department of Labor’s budget by a whopping 21 percent, eliminate the Chemical Safety Board entirely, eliminate numerous health and worker safety training programs, and slash the job safety research budget by approximately $100 million.
- The Clarification of a rule that requires employers to maintain accurate illness and injury records is being repealed. And a rule that would have required companies to disclose information about health and safety violations to qualify for government contracts is being repealed as well.
- Agencies have been directed to delay effective dates for final rules that are not yet in effect, and freeze the regulatory process.
- In January of 2017, an executive order was issued that states that two current safeguards must be repealed for every new safety or health protection issued.
Worker health and safety should be a priority in the United States. Trump’s budget cuts and regulatory reform will impede the progress that OSHA has been making to ensure that workers are protected from hazardous work conditions that could result in serious injuries, long-term illnesses, disability and even death.