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Immigrant and Minority Workers at Risk of Dying on the Job

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Eight years of Bush administration cutbacks in funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), particularly for an adequate inspection force, puts New York state workers at greater risk of dying on the job, a new report reveals.

“Dying for Work in New York,” released yesterday, also says immigrant, minority and nonunion workers are at greater risk on the job. The report was sponsored by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), the New York State AFL-CIO and the New York City Central Labor Council.

Joel Shufro, executive director of NYCOSH, told the Workers Independent News (WIN):

It essentially finds that workers are being killed on the job here in New York, and in other parts of the country, as a result of the failure of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to enforce the law. And that’s not because the agency is not doing its job. It’s that they don’t have enough resources.

The report was released in conjunction with OSHA Acting Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab’s briefing for NYCOSH and New York unions on OSHA’s new priorities under the Obama administration. Under the Bush administration, the agency’s inspection force was slashed, its budget was cut and dozens of new safety rules were killed or delayed.

The safety agency is due for increased funding, especially in the enforcement area, under the Obama administration’s budget for the Department of Labor.

Among the report’s findings:

* OSHA had fewer inspectors in the state in 2007 than in 2001. The ratio of inspectors to workers covered in New York state is 1 for every 88,731 workers—far exceeding the International Labor Organization’s benchmark of 1 per 10,000 workers for industrialized nations.

* OSHA’s penalty structure is insufficient to serve as a deterrent—the average proposed OSHA fine resulting from a fatality inspection in New York state was $5,193. This is well below the national average of $12,226 for penalties for fatalities in 2007. Not one employer cited for a hazard leading to fatality was referred to the Solicitor’s Office for criminal prosecution.

* The rate of fatalities in the construction industry was 16.2 per 100,000 workers—more than six times the state fatality rate for all workers. In New York City, the fatality rate among construction workers was even higher—18.5 deaths per 100,000 workers.

* New York state, compared with the nation as a whole, has both a much higher percentage of unionized workers (24.9 percent vs. 12.4 percent) and a lower rate of occupational fatalities (2.57 per 100,000 vs. 3.7 per 100,000 nationally).

Click here for the full report.

Last month at a Senate hearing, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said the Obama administration’s budget increases for OSHA would allow the agency to hire an additional:

* 130 safety and health inspectors (a 10 percent increase from FY 2009).
* 25 whistle-blower investigators (a 33 percent increase).
* 13 full-time employees to strengthen OSHA’s capacity to quickly respond to the sudden emergence of safety and health hazards, such as a pandemic influenza.
* 20 full-time employees to restore OSHA’s rulemaking capabilities, allowing the agency to simultaneously address multiple complex longstanding and emerging regulatory issues.

The increased funding, Solis said, will restore OSHA’s capacity “to enforce statutory protections, provide technical support, promulgate safety and health standards, and strengthen safety and health statistics.”


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