69 Workers in Massachusetts Lost Their Lives on the Job in 2018, Most Deaths Were in Construction Industry

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BOSTON—Sixty-nine workers in Massachusetts lost their lives on the job in 2018, and fatal injuries at work killed 59 of these workers, according to a report “Dying for Work in Massachusetts: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces” by Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, known as MassCOSH.

“An additional 10 firefighters died from work- related disease. We are able to include firefighter fatalities from work- related illness here because under Massachusetts’ Presumptive Disability Law, certain cancers and heart conditions are recognized as occupational in origin and are eligible for Workers’ Compensation,” the report said.

Not included in this report are the many other workers who die from occupational diseases, which kill an estimated 50,000 workers in the U.S. every year.

“In the most recent year for which data sets are available, there were more than 73,300 recordable incidents of non-fatal recordable occupational injuries and illnesses in Massachusetts. Of these cases, 40,200 led to workers having to take days away from work, transfer jobs, or experience job restrictions,” the report said.

In 2018, worker deaths in Massachusetts were once again concentrated in the construction industry, with construction deaths accounting for 36% of workers fatally injured on the job.

The report said that next highest concentrations of deaths came in the public administration sector, which includes both police, public works, and other government workers (14%, eight workers killed on the job), and then in the transportation and warehousing sector (six workers killed on the job), of whom most were truck drivers.

Here are other highlight from the report:

  • Fifty-six men and three women experienced fatal occupational injuries last year. Their average age was 51 years.
  • The youngest worker killed was just 19 years old.
  • The oldest was 91 years old.
  • Ten workers were immigrants, hailing from Brazil (3 workers), Honduras (2 workers), and the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, Portugal and Russia (1 worker each).
  • Ten firefighters died from occupational illnesses in 2018, including from lung, throat, liver and bladder cancers, Hodgkin’s disease, and heart attack.
  • Transportation incidents, which includes motor vehicle crashes and workers struck by vehicles or equipment, were the leading cause of death from injuries in Massachusetts.

After Massachusetts experienced a 11-year high in its worker fatality rate last year (74), work-related deaths are down but not by much. In 2017, 2.1 workers suffered fatal injuries per 100,000 workers, in 2018 that figure is 1.9.

The report continues to investigate the effects the opioid epidemic is having on workplace safety. The most recent and complete data available shows that in 2017, fatal overdoses and suicides claimed 39 workers. While the impact of the opioid crisis is extremely hard to comprehend, one root cause is simple to understand – pain. Opioid users seek a remedy to lessen their acute and chronic pain. Emerging research supports this: workers who have higher risk of pain because of workplace injury are also at higher risk of opioid misuse and overdose. Construction has an injury rate that is 77% higher than the national average. In MA, construction workers die from overdose at six times the average of other industries. The opioid overdose rate is higher among lower-wage workers.

“The figures found in this year’s report are sobering,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan. “Every number referenced was a fellow working person who is no longer with us due to dangerous work. We owe it to them and ourselves to push for the policies and protections we press for in this report because, even in 2019, killer jobs are still very much a thing and far too many of us are dying for a paycheck.”

Also reviewed is the role the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) plays after a worker is killed, including fines it is able to levy against employers who are found responsible for creating unsafe workplaces. For the 2018 fatalities, OSHA has settled 18 cases against employers, with an average final penalty of just $31,294.

The release of Dying for Work coincides with Workers’ Memorial Day, an event observed around the world every year on April 28 to remember workers killed and injured on the job. In Boston, Workers’ Memorial Day was commemorated Friday, April 26 at noon on the steps of the State House, and was observed by slain workers’ family members, union representatives, safety experts, and state officials.

“We mourn for the workers lost this year and their families,” said Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven A. Tolman. “Every single workplace death is one too many. We must continue to work with our federal delegation to improve conditions, despite the Trump Administration’s attempts to move us backwards. We need Massachusetts to be a beacon of hope and I urge leaders to enact legislation that will provide every worker in the Commonwealth with the safe work environment that they deserve.”

The report uncovers a broad range of state legislative bills that would avert needless loss of life and limb on the job, including:

  • An Act Requiring Health Care Employers to Develop and Implement Programs to Prevent Workplace Violence (SD 1281/HD802) requires health care employers to perform an annual safety risk assessment and, based on those findings, develop and implement programs to minimize the danger of workplace violence to employees and patients.
  • An Act Protecting Injured Workers (D1182/HD2947) strengthens anti-retaliation law, provides for an administrative complaint and investigation mechanism for enforcement, and otherwise addresses employer misconduct that prevents workers from receiving timely medical care and benefits.
  • An Act Relative to Workplace Safety (SD1322/HD3015) will require companies seeking to do business with the Commonwealth or seeking a trenching permit to report their record of safety violations. The Commonwealth will be able to avoid contracting with companies with a poor record of safety, thereby preventing future injuries and deaths.
  • An Act to Prevent Wage Theft, Promote Employer Accountability, and Enhance Public Enforcement (SD 1464/ HD 3789) will protect workers and enhance enforcement in several important ways: (1) Increased Employer Accountability; (2) Enhanced Public Enforcement (3); Ensuring Timely Payment.
  • An Act to Protect Children, Families, and Firefighters from Harmful Flame Retardants (SD1573/HD3012) bans the sale of certain harmful flame retardant chemicals in children’s products and residential furniture. It is a practical, feasible step toward protecting the health and safety of firefighters and the public.