Workplace deaths and injuries that are as common as they are horrific should be the long-gone legacy of a 19th century textile mill. But they remain a terrifying reality today. Every day, 150 American workers die from on-the-job accidents and illnesses, while thousands more are injured. This is a travesty.
That’s why every year on Workers Memorial Day (April 28), working people around the country gather to commemorate workers who have lost their lives or suffered illness or injuries on the job, and to demand stronger safety protections on the job.
Nationally, 5,190 workers lost their lives from job-related traumatic injuries according to the most recent statistics and an estimated 50,000–60,000 died from occupational diseases.
In Connecticut, 55 workers lost their lives from job-related traumatic injuries and an additional 53,000 suffered from on the job injuries or illnesses in 2016.
As the President of the Connecticut Employees Union Independent-SEIU 511, which represents over 7,000 active and retired blue collar maintenance and service state workers, I know all too well the dangers workers face on the job.
Our highway workers face the stress of speeding cars and trucks while repairing our roads and bridges. Custodians deal with chemical and biological hazards every day while maintaining our state facilities. And skilled trade workers are exposed to challenging work assignments dealing with equipment that can be very dangerous.
Since passing workplace safety laws more than four decades ago, the United States has made great strides in making workplaces safer and healthier. Because working people and our unions organized, fought and demanded action, fewer men and women are being killed and injured on the job than in the past.
However, that hard-won progress is now at risk, as the Trump administration continues to roll back and delay protections from serious safety hazards, toxic chemicals and workplace violence.
And while the rollbacks, repeals, and weakening of workplace protections do not often make front page headlines, they are often no less important. This incremental chipping away of critical protections for workers will takes its toll with increased injuries and deaths on the job.
Here is a sampling of health and safety protections that have been under attack in the Trump administration:
Rollbacks and repeals
- Repealed Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule to hold federal contractors accountable for obeying safety and labor laws (H.J. Res 37).
- Required that for every new protection, two existing safeguards must be repealed. (Executive Order 13771).
- Proposed FY 2019 budget that would slash the Department of Labor’s budget by 21%, cutting coal mine enforcement and eliminating worker safety and health training programs; eliminate the Chemical Safety Board; and cut NIOSH’s job safety research by $100 million.
Delaying and Weakening Protections
- Proposed to weaken OSHA’s new beryllium standard for workers in construction and maritime, after delaying the effective date and enforcement of the rule in all sectors.
- Delayed enforcement of OSHA’s silica standard in construction for 90 days until Sept. 23, 2017, and full enforcement until Oct. 23, 2017, allowing continued high exposures to deadly silica dust.
- Delayed the requirement for employers to submit summary injury data to OSHA and announced the intention to revise or revoke other parts of the electronic injury reporting/anti-retaliation rule.
- Delayed EPA’s RMP rule to prevent chemical accidents for nearly two years, until Feb. 19, 2019, putting workers, the public and first responders in danger.
- Abandoned work on more than a dozen new OSHA rules including rules on styrene, combustible dust and noise in construction. Suspended work on new OSHA standards on workplace violence, infectious diseases, process safety management and emergency preparedness.
The administration’s aggressive actions against workers’ safety and health are a dangerous slap in the face to working people. At their core is a desire to prioritize corporate profit over all else.
On top of all of this is a perpetual understaffing of OSHA both across the country in the state. In Connecticut, we only have 14 federal OSHA inspectors and 5 state inspectors. It would take these inspectors 122 years to inspect every workplace in the state just one time.
We won’t stand by. Workers will continue to organize through our unions to secure the protections we deserve. This Workers Memorial Day, working families in Connecticut are standing up for safe workplaces. It is time for President Trump and Congress to do what’s right by ensuring good, safe jobs for all.
Ron McLellan is the President of the Connecticut Employees Union Independent-SEIU 511 and is the co-chair of the Connecticut AFL-CIO Health & Safety Committee.