In light of the deadly fertilizer factory explosion in West Texas last month and the deadly building collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 700 people, Mother Jones decided to take a look at the number of fatalities that occur on the job in the US.
According to the latest numbers from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, 4,693 people died on the job in this country in 2011 (the year in which the most up-to-date numbers are available). Agriculture, fishing, and mining were at the top of the list of most dangerous jobs. That number is lower than it was in the 1970s, but it’s still not markedly improved from 2008.
The problem Mother Jones identifies is the lack of resources at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Penalties for violations are so low ($2,156 for a federal violation) are too low to make people improve their standards. And prosecutions in the case of workplace deaths are shockingly low.
The Guardian takes the OSHA issue a step further with this article that details the modest proposal that President Obama made to increase the budget for OSHA; just a little more than one percent.
“Specifically, Obama would budget more for whistleblowers, less for compliance assistance programs, and the same amount for federal enforcement,” the article says. “Managing to keep the already low rate of inspections from slipping even lower is what counts as progress at a time when we have only 2,200 OSHA inspectors for the entire country – a workforce plagued, according to a recent report (pdf) by the Government Accountability Office, by poor training and retention rates due to budget cuts,” the article continued.
So here’s an area where austerity is literally costing people their lives.