Union and safety leaders reported a dramatic surge in deaths due to workplace illnesses and injuries in Massachusetts last year. The number of deaths in 2003 reached 81, up from the 49 deaths in 2002 and the highest number of fatalities since 1999, according to a new report by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, and Western MassCOSH.
The groups blamed employers for not doing enough to ensure workplace safety, the government for underfunding the federal Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA), and weak penalties for OSHA violators.
The groups also criticized state cuts in budgets for public health and environmental agencies that protect workers’ health.
“Fatal and serious workplace injuries in 2003 continued to occur because Massachusetts employers ignored OSHA regulations and failed to institute or maintain basic safety measures such as fall protection, machine guarding and safety switches,” claimed the report.
For every worker killed on-the-job, many others suffer from occupational diseases, according to the report. The report claimed that 800 Massachusetts employees died from occupational diseases in 2003, another 1,866 were diagnosed with cancer caused by workplace exposures, and 50,000 more were seriously injured.
Various occupations were represented on the list of dead – fishermen, firefighters, construction workers, linemen, eletricians, auto mechanic, roofers and window washers. and airplines. They ranged in ages from from 20 to 67.
Sixteen-year-old Edward Duggan, who was crushed when the forklift he was driving at a Pembroke plumbing supply firm tipped and fell on him, was the youngest worker killed.