A new report by The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Unions
(AFL-CIO), the largest federation of unions in the United States, shows that while there has been significant progress in protecting workers from on-the-job injuries, illnesses and deaths, there is still some improvement to be made.
The report features national and state data on workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses.
In Wisconsin there were 105 workplace fatalities in 2021, a decrease of three fatalities from 2020. Out of those 105 deaths, 36 were transportation incidents, 21 were classified as assaults and violent acts, 13 were falls, 13 were due to exposure to harmful substances or environments, 18 were caused by contact with objects and equipment, and four were due to fires and explosions. The average penalty assessed for serious violations of the OSHA Act was $4,709.
Wisconsin’s lowest workplace fatality total in the last two decades was in 2009, when 77 workers were killed on the job.
Wisconsin had a total of 61,200 workplace injuries or illnesses in 2021 – a rate of 3.2 per 100 workers. This was higher than the national average of 2.7 per 100 workers.
“Over the last 50 years, there has been significant progress toward improving working conditions and protecting workers from job injuries, illnesses and deaths,” according to the report. “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 have undoubtedly made workplaces safer and saved lives. But much more progress is needed.”
In 2021, the national job fatality rate increased to 3.6 per 100,000 workers. In 2020, the rate was 3.4 per 100,000 workers.
The report also found Black workers died on the job at the highest rate in more than a decade and Latino workers continue to be at the greatest risk of dying on the jobs compared to all other workers.
The Black worker fatality rate of 4.0 per 100,000 workers increased sharply in 2021 from 3.5 in 2020.
The Latino fatality rate is still disproportionate to the overall job fatality rate, at 4.5 per 100,000 workers in 2021—25% higher than the national average, and marking a 13% increase over the past decade.
“Severe inequities in dangerous working conditions have created an unacceptable discrepancy in those who face the largest burdens of disease, injury and death because of their jobs,” according to the report. “Initiatives to address the safety and health risks posed by changes in the workforce and employment arrangements must take more prominence, and workplace safety and health regulations must be seen as a significant tool to raise the level of working conditions for those disproportionately affected.”
The industries with the highest fatality rates in 2021 were agriculture, forestry, and fishing and hunting with 19.5 per 100,000 workers. Transportation and warehousing had the second highest fatality rates in 2021 with 14.5 per 100,000 workers.
The report offers several possible actions that could further increase overall job safety for workers. They include strengthening federal OSHA oversight of state OSHA plans, issuing a permanent OSGA COVID-19 standard to protect health care workers, strengthening anti-retaliation protections and worker participation rights, increasing attention to the safety and health problems faced by Black and Latino workers, and more.