MassCOSH Honors Fallen Workers

April 28, 2017

*Click here to read our media coverage*   This past October, Robert Higgins and Kelvin Mattocks were working in a trench their employer, Atlantic Drain Services, knew lacked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) required protections needed to prevent the earth from caving in around them. Atlantic Drain Services had a history of putting their workers in danger, forcing OSHA to include them in its Severe Violator program, a result of putting workers in unprotected trenches in 2007 and 2012. The careless business practices of their employer cost Robert and Kelvin their lives when a water supply line ruptured into the trench while they were working, drowning the men in a deadly mix of dirt and water. It took Boston firefighters hours to recover the workers’ bodies, one of whom was found fully encased in a standing position.
Today, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) released a new report documenting the loss of life taking place at worksites across Massachusetts. Titled Dying for Work in Massachusetts: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces, the 27-page report details how workers like Kelvin and Robert lost their lives on the job in 2016 and what must be done to keep workers safe. Click here to read the report.
The report highlights several findings, including:

  • The construction industry remains the most dangerous for workers, accounting for 25 deaths, nearly 40% of all workers fatally injured on the job.
  • Transportation incidents were the leading cause of fatal injuries in Massachusetts, contributing to the deaths of 25 workers. Transportation incidents were also the leading cause of fatal injuries in 2015.
  • The youngest worker killed was just 18 years old; the oldest was 74 years old. All but one of the workers killed were men.
  • Eight workers who lost their lives were immigrants; their deaths accounted for 13% of 2016’s total. 
  • The report noted Massachusetts experienced a 10 year high in its worker fatality rate. In 2012, there was one worker death per 100,000 employees. The amount grew to 1.4 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2013 to 1.5 in 2014 to 1.9 in 2016. In 2017, two workers suffered fatal injuries per 100,000 workers.

“What I hope the public takes away from this report is that worker health and safety issues are not part of history, they are very much a part of the present," said MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan. “When employer precautions are not taken to protect workers, people die. “In Dying for Work, we also carefully examined how Trump Administration actions could make is easier for employers to short skirt their responsibilities to keep us safe on the job, troubling activities that could result in even more tragedy for working families.”
The report reviews the Obama-era protections repealed by President Trump’s executive orders, such as a rule for employers to maintain accurate injury records for five years and a rule which allowed the federal government to refuse to do business with companies that have a history of violating labor laws. It also discusses what proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Labor could result in, such as cuts to OSHA. Currently, there is one OSHA inspector for every 115,863 workers in the Bay State. It would take more than 150 years for OSHA to pay a single visit to each workplace in the state.
“Under the new administration, we are witnessing a frontal assault on the federal institutions trusted with protecting our air, water, food, homes, heath, workplaces, and economy,” said Steven Tolman, President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “The president claims to champion workers, but his actions have already repealed or weakened important safeguards that protect workplace health and safety in every industry.”
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 Massachusetts, Workers’ Memorial Day was commemorated on the steps of the State House at noon, observed by slain workers’ family members, union representatives, safety experts, and state officials.

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

  • Hailing Boston’s leadership in refusing to grant necessary construction permits to businesses with a history of putting their workers in danger. Advocates have been pushing for this practice to be expanded statewide with the passing of H.1033 An Act relative to workplace safety.
  • Increasing manslaughter penalties for employers who recklessly or negligently cause a worker to be killed or seriously injured on the job. If Atlantic Drain Services is found responsible for the deaths of two of its employees, the maximum fine it would face is $1,000. Passing, S.858 An Act to increase the penalties for corporate manslaughter would raise the fine to $250,000.
  • Enacting legislation that holds companies that subcontract, outsource, or use temporary agencies jointly responsible for wages and the health and safety of those workers. By passing, H.1033 An Act to prevent wage theft and promote employer accountability, workers can be ensured these protections.