In addition to the devastation to the town itself, the explosion at the West, Texas fertilizer plant has brought the issue of worker and worksite safety into the forefront of the public discussion. Without serious regulations and oversight, employers have once again shown that they will take advantage of workers and will not focus on worker safety. As a result of our long history of workers being killed, maimed, and injured, laws were enacted to protect the American worker from unnecessary dangers.
As a way of improving workplace safety, restrictions and regulations in a variety of areas were imposed by the government. Hours limitations were enacted for all workers and specific hour limitations were enacted for professions in which fatigue was especially dangerous. Regulations regarding child labor were enacted. As time went by, job specific safety regulations were enacted to address fall protection, vision/hearing protection, inhalation issues, and a variety of other potential dangers were lessened.
Finally, worksite safety was changed to address potential dangers to contract workers, visitors, full and part time workers, and members of the public who happened to live or traverse around or through work sites. These changes were specifically made to address large scale disasters like explosions, exposures, and other incidents that could injure innocent people living near facilities that had no idea what dangers lurked near them.
In spite of the many significant steps forward in the realm of worker safety, over the last few decades, deregulation has been a goal of many politicians. As a result, there has been less oversight of many industries. Many argue that this has led to a slow increase in worker injuries and deaths, and some of the data proves that contention may be correct.
A report released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows an ever-so-slight uptick in the number of workers killed on the job in 2011. In all 4,693 workers suffered fatal injuries on the job that year, which was three more than in 2010. The fatal injury rate for 2011, however, was down slightly from 2010, at 3.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.
According to the BLS, transportation incidents were the most frequent cause of on-the-job fatalities, with 1,937 workers dying in such incidents. The second most common cause of death was the 710 workers kill through “contact with objects and equipment.” That was just ahead of the 681 who were killed in “falls, slips [and] trips”; and 419 from “exposure to harmful substances or environments.”
While the West, Texas explosion is the type of catastrophe that pulls people in and grabs their attention, it should give people pause that the 14 killed in that disaster is roughly the number of workers who die in the workplace on a typical day. An average workday in the United States sees 13 workers killed on the job, while many more are injured. In fact, on the same day the fertilizer plant blew up, a dozen contract workers suffered burns when a fire broke out at the ExxonMobil refinery in Beaumont.
Speaking of contract workers, 2011 was the first time the BLS fatality report included a separate category for contract workers. They were added to the mix because it was felt employers weren’t afforded the same protections as their regular employees. In 2011, 542 contract workers died on the job naturally, with Texas leading the way with 56.
The increase in deaths and serious injuries for workers on the job is an alarming statistic. As technology gets better and worker education and training improves, the expected trajectory of worker deaths should be downward. However, it is increasing. Employers and regulators must step up to address this issue and work to lower the number of workers injured or killed on the job. If you have been injured or you lost a loved one on the job, contact a wrongful death attorney at Hill Law Firm today. Consultations are always free and time is of the essence.