Nobody knows how many worker deaths there have been over the last year

Philadelphia workers' compensationExact numbers of worker deaths each year in the United States remain elusive because no government agency comprehensively tracks these fatalities, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, using details from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), recorded 5,147 fatal work injuries in 2017, down from 5,190 in 2016.

OSHA covers only private-sector employees, however, leaving out public-sector workers, independent contractors and anyone else engaged in a more informal work arrangement.

That’s especially concerning when an estimated one in five jobs in the U.S. is held by a worker under contract, according to a 2018 NPR-Marist poll.

For example, The Inquirer said that OSHA has no record of the death of Pablo Avendano, 34, who was hit by an SUV in May 2018 while delivering food for an online company in Philadelphia. That’s because Avendano was an independent contractor.

At a gathering to commemorate Avendano, speakers blamed his death on an American economy that assigns little value to workers and, for couriers, pushes them onto the streets for low wages in dangerous conditions.

Other kinds of illnesses, such as stress-related heart disease stemming from work, also can cause deaths. It is hard to determine whether those deaths resulted from work or to what degree the impact of the job can be blamed for the death.

What's driving worker deaths?

The vulnerability that many workers experience is highlighted by the 116 workers who have died on the job since March 2018 in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey.

The danger of construction industry jobs remains a reliable indicator of the deadliness of at least one workplace in America.

Of 4,674 worker fatalities in private industry in 2017, construction accounted for 971, or nearly 21 percent.

The leading causes of private sector worker deaths (excluding highway collisions) in the construction industry were falls, being struck by an object, electrocution and “caught-in/between.” The latter category refers to construction workers killed when caught-in or compressed by equipment or objects, and struck, caught or crushed in a collapsing structure, or by equipment or material.

In the “notoriously dangerous construction industry,” according to The Inquirer, many workers are illegally misclassified as independent contractors, which means deaths in that industry could be going untracked.

Worker Deaths Down

Worker deaths in America are down — on average, from about 38 worker deaths a day in 1970 to 14 a day in 2017 — based, again, on the non-comprehensive OSHA numbers.

The AFL-CIO reported that 4,836 workers were killed on the job in the U.S. in 2015. An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 workers died from occupational diseases, the unions said, noting underreporting is widespread.

The AFL-CIO said U.S. states with the highest fatality rates in 2015 were:

  • North Dakota, 12.5 per 100,000 workers
  • Wyoming, 12 per 100,000 workers
  • Montana, 7.5 per 100,000
  • Mississippi, 6.8 per 100,000 workers
  • Arkansas, 5.8 per 100,000 workers
  • Louisiana, 5.8 per 100,000 workers.

Some observers said the administration of President Donald Trump has weakened on-the-job protections for workers. A 2019 AFL-CIO report said 49 OSHA inspectors were responsible for investigating safety conditions for Pennsylvania’s nearly 5.8 million workers, down from 57 in 2016, when the state had 5.6 million workers.

Contact the Law Offices Of Richard A. Jaffe today for help with cases of worker deaths and issues related to workers’ compensation and construction and other workplace accidents.

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