I will speak up here and say that I am quite appreciative of the work that labor unions have performed over the last 100 years.
Because of their advocacy for workers, U.S. and Canada governments have passed a number of laws and regulations regarding worker safety, wages, and other benefits that have created a much safer and more dignified work environment for the people who wish to make a living for their families.
Unions have been able to get many of their workplace demands codified into law, and for that – especially from a safety perspective – I will be forever grateful.
But I do have to wonder at this point, with all of the progress that unions have been able to achhieve in making safe workplaces and fair wages part of governmental legislation and ensconced in regulations in both countries, what more do unions stand for that support workers? Workers are in the safest workplaces ever, death rates are down, wages are up. What more is there to do that government isn’t already playing a role in codifying for perpetuity?
The annual “state of safety” report produced by the ALF-CIO seems to give us the answer. While we’re safer as workers, we’re apparently not safe enough.
Every year for more than 25 years, the ALF-CIO produces its annual report regarding workplace safety, and it will often renew calls for legislation make workers even safer – perhaps by imposing more safety investments by businesses in order to meet that need. In a recent report, the union put forth a recommendation to encourage Congress to pass legislation that would extend OSHA oversight to contract workers and establish harsher penalties for those who commit OSHA violations.
To be fair, the study by this union does bring about some interesting findings, though very few are surprising to those of us in the business of safety and who are working hard to lower these numbers without requiring legislative action. The big highlights in this report are:
- Every day, there are 150 work-related deaths, and more than 10,000 work-related injuries and illnesses on worksites It’s possible that underreporting could mean the actual injry/illness number may be 20,000 to 30,000 a day..
- Latin Americans are killed 9 percent more frequently than the overall workforce (3.7 per 100,000 workers, compared to 3.4).
- Workers aged 55 and older account for more than one-third of all workplace deaths – the highest number for this age group ever recorded. (OK, so maybe we do still have some work to do.)
- The oil and gas industry is the most dangerous, listing a death rate of 15.6 per 100,000 workers, which is 4.5 times (450 percent) higher than the national average.
- Workplace violence is still a serious problem, as such violence caused more than 26,000 lost-time injuries (500 per week), with women being the victim two-thirds of the time.