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Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, 2024

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Executive Summary

This 2024 edition of “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect” marks the 33rd year the AFL-CIO has produced a report on the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Act, promising every worker the right to a safe job, has been in effect for more than 50 years, and nearly 690,000 workers now can say their lives have been saved since the passage of the OSH Act. 

Over the last 50 years, there has been significant progress toward improving working conditions and protecting workers from job injuries, illnesses and deaths. Federal job safety agencies have issued many important regulations on safety hazards and health hazards like silica and coal dust, strengthened enforcement and expanded worker rights. These initiatives undoubtedly have made workplaces safer and saved lives, but much more progress is needed. 

Over the years, progress has become more challenging, as employers’ opposition to workers’ rights and protections has grown, and attacks on unions have intensified. Big corporations and many Republicans have launched an aggressive assault on worker protections. They have used their power and influence to attempt to deregulate the work environment, shift the responsibility to provide safe jobs from employers to individual workers, and undermine the core duties of job safety and health agencies. The unnecessary political polarization of critical issues like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated and introduced new challenges to longstanding problems of heat and infectious diseases exposures in the workplace, but these real threats from existing and emerging hazards need to be addressed under the duties of the OSH Act. Other real, everyday threats like workplace violence and job fatality rates for workers of color are only getting worse.

But our job safety agencies have been flat-funded for years, not even keeping up with inflation. Meanwhile, these agencies’ responsibilities have grown with increasing employment and emerging hazards. There needs to be a renewed focus and commitment to these agencies from both lawmakers and the public. 

The Biden and Trump administration’s records on worker safety and health differ drastically. The Biden administration’s job safety agencies have had to repair and rebuild after four years of decimation rife with understaffing, repeal of worker safety laws, limits on public access to information and the inability to issue even the most basic of long-overdue protections. Instead, the Biden administration has improved transparency of information about loved ones lost on the job to honor them and to prevent these tragedies for other families, bolstered enforcement initiatives to hold accountable the employers who violate the law and put workers in danger, strengthened policies to protect vulnerable workers with the greatest risks of dying on the job and facing retaliation, and issued milestone regulations to save workers’ lives and improve their livelihoods.

Just recently, the Biden administration used the first action under the amended Toxic Substances Control Act to ban current uses and imports of chrysotile asbestos, after decades of weak laws and inaction that have put the United States behind other countries; issued a rule to protect communities from facilities that store, use or manufacture chemicals; clarified the rights of workers to choose their own representation during inspections; issued a rule to protect mineworkers from silica exposure; issued a rule to require large employers to fall in line with other-sized employers on injury reporting to OSHA and anti-retaliation measures for workers who report injuries; and worked across agencies to protect immigrant workers whose employers are involved in a workplace safety and health investigation. 

The nation must remain committed to protecting workers from job injury, disease and death and to ensure Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigations have access to all of the relevant facts and witnesses that often are blocked by employers. We must prioritize preventing injury, illness and death at work in order to restore dignity and justice to working people, improve livelihoods, and reduce burdens on families and communities. Employers must meet their responsibilities under the law to protect workers and be held accountable if they put workers in danger. Only then can we fulfill the promise of good jobs to include a safe and healthy job for all of America’s workers. There is much more work to be done to ensure the fundamental right to a safe job is a reality for all.

Read the full report...