MassCOSH observes Workers' Memorial Day
Dying for Work in Massachusetts: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces, a new report released today by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and MassCOSH, documents the loss of Palaguachi and the 57 other workers in the Commonwealth who were killed on the job in 2011.
Luis Tenezaca Palaguachi never lived to see twenty-six. The young roofer was working on a triple-decker home in New Bedford, when he lost his balance and fell three stories to a driveway below. Palaguachi’s employer, Chelsea Enterprises Construction, allegedly did not provide any life-saving fall protection to its workers – a grave safety violation.
Dying for Work in Massachusetts: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces, a new report released today by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupation Safety and Health (MassCOSH), documents the loss of Palaguachi and the 57 other workers in the Commonwealth who were killed on the job in 2011. An average of 1.1 worker death occurred each week that year, including ten firefighters who died from work-related cancer and heart disease.
Dying for Work states that it’s not just accidents taking workers lives. In 2011, the report estimates 580 workers died in Massachusetts from occupational diseases and 1,800 workers were diagnosed with cancers caused by workplace exposures. The release of Dying for Work in Massachusetts coincides with Workers’ Memorial Day, an event observed around the world every year in late April to remember workers killed and injured on the job. In Massachusetts, Workers’ Memorial Day will be commemorated on the steps of the State House on April 26 at 12:00 pm.
Joe McArdle, president of the Laborers Public Employee Council, knows first hand the toll of a close friend going to work and not returning home. His colleague Bob DeCristofaro was killed while repairing the traffic control lights for the City of Quincy. DeCristofaro, 58, a 30 year city employee, was working from an aerial lift bucket truck parked to the side on a busy roadway. A large semi tractor-trailer unit passed beneath, brushing the bottom of the lift bucket, catapulting Bob into the air and down onto the pavement. Two of his co-workers rushed to his aid and a passing nursed stopped to assist, but it was too late. One hour later, Robert DeCristofaro died at the local hospital, leaving a wife and a 14-year-old son.
“Bob was big on safety,” said McArdle. “If Bob were still around he would like to see something done as a result of this accident.”
The report also highlights several issues of growing concern:
• Falls caused more than one-fifth (12 out of 58) of all occupational fatalities in Massachusetts in 2011. Five of the twelve falls occurred in the construction industry.
• Motor Vehicle Incidents accounted for twelve occupational fatalities. Half of the incidents involved a truck or auto crash. In the other six incidents, a worker was struck or crushed by a vehicle.
• Workplace violence continues to be a major work hazard, responsible for the deaths of six workers who were killed during the performance of their work in 2011. Examples of workplace homicide in Dying for Work in Massachusetts include that of Stephanie M. Moulton, 25, an assistant manager at a North Suffolk Mental Health residential home, who was abducted and killed by a client while at work on January 20, 2011.
• Despite deaths of public employees such as Bob DeCristafaro, Massachusetts public workers remain outside the jurisdiction of OSHA protections. Massachusetts remains one of only five states whose public employees are not covered by OSHA or similar agency protections.
“What’s most distressing about the findings in Dying for Work is the number of preventable accidents that are claiming the lives of so many hard working men and women every year,” said the report’s co-author Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of MassCOSH. “More disturbing still is that many of these accidents are similar to the accidents that killed workers the year before, and the year before that. It’s grossly negligent to put employees in harm’s way without ensuring that essential safety measures are in place.”
Steven Tolman, President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, echoed Goldstein-Gelb’s concerns. "The names and faces of these fallen workers, and the households in heartbreak over the loss of a loved one change from year to year, but one devastating fact remains constant: families would not be forced to live without a loved one had existing safety regulations simply been followed by employers.”
Dying for Work in Massachusetts calls for regulations on both the state and federal level to be strengthened. Necessary improvements include protections for public employees, protection for immigrant workers, improvements in Massachusetts Workers' Compensation, and comprehensive workplace safety programs. The report also calls for the passage of critical state legislation including:
• ‘Temporary Worker Right to Know Bill (formerly House Bill 1393) which will require temporary employment agencies to provide written notice of key details of job assignments including: the worksite employer, job wages, the right to workers’ compensation, as well as a receipt for any charges paid by the applicant.
• Pass bills to protect human service workers from violence including 1) ‘An Act to Promote the Public Health through Workplace Safety for Social Workers,’ (House Bill 592, Senate bill 1206) which would require employers of social workers and human service providers to create safety plans for their workplaces and perform annual risk assessments relative to factors which may put social workers at risk of workplace assault. 2) Stephanie’s Law (S2006) which would provide human service workers with mobile alert devices to be able to call for help when working alone.
“I wouldn’t wish what my family and I have gone through on anyone,” said Tony Buckman, whose father was electrocuted at work in 2006. “My mom struggles to work full time and raise three children. She has done the best she can, but we have been deprived of a lot that would have been there if this preventable accident had never occurred.”