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Deadliest Jobs in America

Workers are continuing to die as OSHA inspections decrease

Daniel Hinton's picture
May 01, 2019

Fishing, logging, oil and coal mining, truckers, pilots, farmers, and landscapers. By all means, keep reading.

Workers’ Memorial Day (April 28) appropriately fell on a Sunday this year. All week, church congregations in cities and small towns across America are commemorating workers who died on the job — a list that continues to grow by the thousands every year.

In fact, the AFL-CIO’s latest estimates say that, on average, 275 workers lose their lives each day from hazardous conditions and occupational illnesses. Their annual report, “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” highlights the most at-risk industries and workers, the rise of workplace violence, and lack of enforcement against bad bosses.

The nearly 50-year-old Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the lesser-known Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have shrunk under an administration that is openly hostile toward regulations or collective bargaining of any kind. Budgets and staffs are being cut. Many of President Trump’s appointees and nominees to head these offices come from the corporate world, which puts their sincere commitment to worker health and safety into question.

Currently, there are about 79,000 workers to each OSHA investigator. Injuries and illnesses go under-reported. In some states and industries, the rate of fatalities is actually on the rise.

Certain demographics, such as Latino workers and those 65 and over, suffered increases in 2017. Though men account for the vast majority of fatal injuries and deaths, women are victims of workplace violence and homicides at a higher rate.

Many of the deadliest and most dangerous jobs have well-built reputations by now: fishing, logging, and extraction (e.g., oil and coal). Because the biggest cause of deaths remains transportation accidents, occupations like truck drivers and pilots also rank high on the list. Despite being made famous by reality shows, these jobs still have extremely high fatality rates without much compensation for it: eight of the nine deadliest jobs pay less than the national median salary.

Not that it really matters in the end, but determining which among these is worse off depends on the definition. All of them are severely more hazardous and deadly than the average job. Going by the fatality rate (deaths per 100,000 employees), loggers are by far the most at-risk. When going by the total number of deaths, truckers take the dubious title by a long shot. The lowest pay, however, goes to farmers and groundskeepers.

Many of these occupations correlate with industries that have very low union density and concentrate in states with weak enforcement. Agriculture and construction have always been struggles to organize, while the mining, extraction, and transportation industries have seen union rates drop this century.

For their part, unions in the AFL-CIO have fought back against many of these changes, while pushing for more rights and protections. The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309), for example, targets one of the rising causes of casualties in health care and emergency services.

These efforts come at a pivotal point when the amount of staff and resources at OSHA are at their lowest point since its creation in the early 1970s.

Take nothing for granted — not the life of a worker or the gains that have been made to ensure they can live a good, healthy life after their shifts end.

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