Press Release | Workplace Health and Safety

Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, the AFL-CIO Releases Its Annual Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect Report

 AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka highlights how the current health crisis is a product of the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks, weakened regulations and OSHA neglect. Expresses urgency in passing the HEROES Act.

View Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect report here: 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, affecting more than 7.4. million Americans, with more than 210,000 deaths in the United States, the AFL-CIO today released its annual Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect report, which contains data showing how the current administration’s failure to act in the past has been a main contributor to the gravity of the current public health crisis.

During a video press conference to release the report, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outlined the current health crisis as a product of the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks, weakened regulations and resource cuts to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  

“This report shows the tremendous neglect by the Trump administration, since day one in office, to ensure that working people are safe on the job,” said Trumka. “For nearly four years, President Trump has downplayed the role of safety agencies tasked with protecting workers and let corporate profit, rather than science, influence the protections we need to keep us safe from this disastrous pandemic. Now hardworking families are paying the price. We all deserve the best protections available. It is time to change course. Our lives and the future of the country depend on it.”

According to the 29th edition of the report released today, in 2018, 5,250 working people were killed on the job and an estimated 95,000 died from occupational diseases. Each and every day, on average, 275 U.S. workers die from hazardous working conditions. The job fatality rate remained the same as the previous year—3.5 per 100,000 workers—indicating little progress on making workplaces safer in recent years. The toll and burden of occupational injuries and illnesses continue to be enormous.

Despite these disturbing findings, OSHA’s meager resources kept declining. Currently, federal OSHA has only 746 inspectors—the lowest number in the history of the agency. It would take the agency 162 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once. Yet, the administration has continued to enact an aggressive deregulatory agenda, gut safety rules, propose deep cuts to worker safety and health training and job safety research, and has refused to move forward with new rules to protect workers against growing threats, including COVID-19 and workplace violence.

Many front-line and essential workers are people of color who are risking their lives going to work every day to provide food and services to our nation. The report shows that even before the pandemic, people of color were most at risk of dying or being injured in the workplace.
In 2018, there was an increase in the number of Latino worker deaths. Latino workers’ fatality rate remained the same at 3.7 per 100,000 workers, but it remains greater than the overall job fatality rate at 3.5. The number of Latino workers who died on the job increased this year, with  67% of those being immigrant workers.

In 2018, 615 Black workers died on the job, an increase from 530 deaths in 2017 and a 46% increase in the past decade. The fatal injury rate for Black workers increased in 2018 to 3.6 per 100,000 workers from 3.2 in 2017, now higher than the overall fatality rate (3.5) for the first time in five years.  

Older workers also are at a great risk of dying on the job; workers 65 or older have nearly three times the risk of dying on the job as workers overall. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people between the ages of 65 and 74 also have a 90% higher chance of dying from COVID-19.

Nearly two years before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, workers in construction, transportation and the agriculture industries were at greatest risk of dying or being injured while earning a living. In 2018, 1,038 construction workers were killed—the highest total of any sector. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting was the most dangerous industry sector, with a fatality rate of 23.4 per 100,000 workers.

“The data shows how ill-prepared the country was for the pandemic. This was a crisis in the making. There were warning signs everywhere, yet the Trump administration decided to ignore them and put everyone in harm’s way,” said Trumka. “And while every day thousands of workers continue to be infected with COVID-19, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell keeps playing politics instead of taking action to prevent these tragedies. Our elected leaders must pass the HEROES Act now, requiring a national workplace safety COVID-19 standard. America’s workers will hold them accountable using our ballots. We won’t stand on the sidelines while our families, friends and co-workers continue to die from preventable causes.” 

Watch the video of the press call on the AFL-CIO Facebook page.

Contact: Gonzalo Salvador (202) 637-5018