According to recently released statistics from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 30 Georgians died last year in workplace accidents. Though the number of workers killed in on-the-job accidents is down compared to several years ago, far too many people die in the state trying to earn a living.
According to data from OSHA, the construction and manufacturing industries were responsible for the most deaths, 12 each. After that, agriculture and landscaping each saw four deaths while two Georgians died doing maritime work. The numbers showed that the most common cause of death was when an object or a vehicle struck a worker. Falls were the second leading reason for workplace deaths followed by incidents involving electrocution, burns and chemical exposure. In one isolated incident a worker died due to being trapped in a freezer.
Though the number of deaths is lower now than several years ago, many experts believe that the slower economy is largely responsible for the decline, not safer workplace conditions. Worker safety advocates fear that as the economy continues to gain steam the number of workplace fatalities will begin a steady march upward. After all, the two industries responsible for the most deaths are construction and manufacturing, two of the hardest hit in the recent economic downturn. As the housing market recovers and new developments are launched, the worry is that the same dangers that led construction deaths to spike in the early 2000s will present themselves again.
Unions and other organizations dedicated to advocating for workers have said that one way to help reduce on-the-job accidents and ensure the safety of employees is by giving OSHA more power. One primary problem is understaffing at the agency, which has a little less than 2,400 inspectors responsible for overseeing eight million work sites and more than 130 million workers. It would likely come as a surprise to many that the amount of money in the federal budget spent on protecting workers is less than half the amount dedicated to protecting fish and wildlife. According to a report by AFL–CIO, given current staffing levels it would take OSHA 129 years to inspect all the workplaces under its jurisdiction.
Another issue that contributes to OSHA’s toothlessness is the limit on the amount of money it can fine employers who have jeopardized their workers’ safety. Even in the most serious cases, the maximum fine OSHA is capable of handing down is $7,000.00. The highest fine for repeated and willful violations is $70,000.00, a number that pales in comparison to the immense harm suffered by injured workers. As a point of reference, while OSHA is tapped out at $70,000.00, the Department of Agriculture is allowed to fine farmers up to $130,000.00 and the FCC can slap around broadcasters with up to $325,000.00 in penalties simply for swearing.