facts about worker safety and health - AFL-CIO

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the effective date of the Occupational Safety and
Health Act and the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The Act—which guarantees every American worker a safe and healthful working
environment—created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to set and
enforce standards and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to
conduct research and investigations. This year also marks the 47th anniversary of the Coal
Mine Health and Safety Act, and 39th anniversary of the Federal Mine Safety and Health
Since 1970, workplace safety and health conditions have improved. More than 532,000
workers now can say their lives have been saved since the passage of the Occupational
Safety and Health Act. But many workers remain in serious danger.
Since taking office in 2009, the Obama administration has increased the job safety budget,
stepped up enforcement and has completed several much-needed standards, including rules
on cranes and derricks, coal dust, confined spaces in construction, injury reporting and silica.
But industry groups are trying to overturn the new OSHA silica rule, and the Republican
majority in Congress is trying to roll back worker protections and the right to join a union.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act is 45 years old, and is out of date. Millions of
workers lack coverage, penalties are weak and worker and union rights are very limited.
Thousands of workers still face retaliation by their employers each year for raising job safety
concerns or reporting injuries—fired or harassed simply because they want a safe place to
work. The OSH Act’s whistleblower and anti-retaliation provisions are too weak to provide
adequate protection to workers who try to exercise their legal rights.
In 2014, nearly 4,700 workers were killed on-the-job by
traumatic injuries and an estimated 50,000–60,000 died
from occupational diseases. On an average day, more than
10,000 workers are injured or become ill because of
workplace hazards, and 150 workers lose their lives as a
result of workplace injuries and diseases.
On average, 13 workers
were killed each day in
2014 from job-related
Preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics count 4,679 worker deaths in 2014 from
traumatic injuries. This number will increase when the final data is released later in April.
This preliminary count is an increase from the 4,585 work-related deaths that BLS reported
in the final count for 2013.
The preliminary fatality rate in 2014 was 3.3 per 100,000 workers, the same as the fatality
rate in 2013.
U.S. Fatality Rate
(number of workers killed per 100,000 workers)
In 2014, 3.0 million injuries and illnesses were reported in private-sector workplaces. An
additional 722,300 injuries and illnesses were reported among state and local public
employees. The reported injury and illness rate for private sector workers was 3.2 per 100
workers. The BLS injury and illness data undercount workplace injuries and illnesses.
Research indicates the true toll of job injuries may be two to three times greater than the
numbers and rates reported by BLS.
There were 298,460 musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that resulted in days away from work
in 2014. MSDs account for 32% of serious workplace injuries and illnesses and remain the
biggest source of job injuries.
Some groups of workers are at much greater risk than others.
Industry Sector
All Industries
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting
Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction
Oil and Gas Extraction only
Transportation and Warehousing
*preliminary fatality rate, per 100,000 workers
Fatality Rate, 2014(p)*
Fatality rates in the mining industry have dropped significantly over time, from a rate of 100
per 100,000 workers in 1970 to 14.1 per 100,000 in 2014. But mining is still very dangerous.
In 2014 there were 40 mine fatalities—16 in coal, and 24 in metal and non-metal mines. In
2015 there were 28 mining fatalities—11 in coal and 17 in metal and non-metal mines.
The oil and gas sector is a very dangerous industry for workers. With the increase in oil and
gas production, there has been a sharp increase in work-related deaths in this sector. In 2014,
there were 142 worker deaths in the oil and gas industry— and this number is likely to
increase when the final fatality data is released. In 2013, 112 oil and gas worker died on the
job; and in 2012, there were 142 deaths among oil and gas workers. BLS reported a
preliminary fatality rate for oil and gas workers of 15.6 per 100,000 workers for 2014.
Latino workers are at high risk of job-related deaths with a fatality rate of 3.6/100,000, 9%
greater than the national fatality rate. The fatality rate for Latino workers has declined
significantly from a peak fatality rate of 6.0 workers in 2001 but is still disproportionately
high compared to other workers. In 2014, there were 789 Latino worker deaths compared
with 708 deaths in 2012 and 817 Latino worker deaths in 2013. The majority (64%) of Latino
workers who died on the job in 2014 were immigrant workers. A total of 827 foreign-born
workers died on the job in 2014.
Immigrant workers have a disproportionate rate of injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the
workplace largely because they work in dangerous industries and may be particularly
vulnerable due to their immigration status, and may be subject to employer exploitation.
In 2014, 35% of all fatalities (1,621 deaths) occurred in workers aged 55 years or older, with
656 of these deaths occurring in workers aged 65 years or older. Workers 65 years or older
have three times the risk of dying on the job than the overall work population with a fatality
rate of 10.2 per 100,000 workers. Workers aged 55-64 also have an increased fatality risk
with a fatality rate of 4.1 per 100,000 workers.
Workplace violence is a growing problem. There currently is no federal workplace violence
standard, with only few states addressing the problem. In 2014, there were 404 workplace
homicides, similar to the number (397) in 2013. There were more than 26,000 serious
injuries related to workplace violence, with women workers in health care and social
assistance facing the greatest risk of injury.
Women experienced nearly twice as many workplace violence events as men.
There were 271 suicides in the workplace in 2014, compared to 249 in 2012 and 282 in 2013.
Nearly 8.0 million state and local public employees lack OSHA protection. The injury and
illness rate for state and local public employees was 5.0/100 workers—56% higher than the
injury and illness rate for the private sector workforce (3.2/100 workers).
There is one OSHA inspector
for every 74,760 workers.
It would take Federal OSHA
145 years to inspect all
 Federal OSHA has only 805 safety and health inspectors and
can inspect workplaces, on average, once every 145 years. The
state OSHA plans combined have a total of 1,035 inspectors and
can inspect workplaces on average once every 97 years.
 OSHA’s current budget (FY 2016) of $553 million amounts to
$3.71 per worker.
OSHA penalties have increased under the Obama administration, but still are too low to be a
Penalty for a serious violation of the OSH Act
• In FY 2015, the average penalty for a serious violation of the OSH Act
was only $2,148 for Federal OSHA and $1,317 for OSHA state plans
Penalty for a worker death: Slap on the wrist
• In FY 2015, the median total penalty in fatality cases investigated by
Federal OSHA was only $9,000 reduced to $7,000 after settlements.
1 OSHA’s penalty policy implemented in FY 2011 increased average OSHA penalties for serious violations from
about $1,000 to $2,000. Under the OSH Act, the maximum penalty for a serious violation of the law has been only
$7,000. In 2015, Congress passed a law that will raise the maximum serious penalty to $12,500 and the maximum
penalty for a willful or repeat violation to $125,000.
Most chemical hazards are unregulated. Since OSHA was created, comprehensive standards
have been issued for only 31 toxic chemicals. The latest comprehensive standard is a new
silica rule that protect workers in general industry, construction and maritime from deadly
silica exposure. The silica rule was a major victory for workers and will significantly reduce
dust exposures. But OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (PELs) for chemical hazards remain
outdated and many other chemicals lack regulation altogether, leaving millions of workers at
risk of disease and death from workplace chemical exposures.
Contractors accounted for 17 percent of all worker deaths in 2014. Employers are contracting
out more and more work seeking to reduce costs and shift responsibility. Temporary workers
and other contract workers often work in dangerous jobs, with no safety and health
protections or training.
Other major safety and health concerns facing workers today include issues of work
organization such as increased hours of work, intensification of work due to downsizing,
increased pace of work and inadequate staffing.
At the workplace the move toward behavior-based safety and incentive programs is
particularly alarming. These “blame the worker” programs try to shift responsibility for job
injuries to workers, rather than addressing workplace hazards.
Prepared by: AFL-CIO Safety and Health Department, April 7, 2016