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History of Workplace Injuries in America

In the United States, about a million workers have been killed on-the-job since the 1920’s. Our country’s prior industrial history is even more compelling. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated annual workplace injury fatalities at 30,039 in the early 1920’s. 75,000 railroad workers died in the quarter century before World War I alone. The construction industry was just as dangerous, if not more so. The International Association of Bridge and Structural Steel Workers (Iron Workers), for example, lost a full one percent of its membership to workplace accidents in fiscal year 1911-12. A leading skyscraper construction firm admitted at the end of the 1920’s that one worker died for every 33 hours of employed time during the previous decade. The United States led the world in casualty rates. Coal worker fatality rates were triple those in the United Kingdom, to cite one example. Linder, Marc. Fatal Subtraction: Statistical MIAs on the Industrial Battlefield. 20 J. Legis. 99 (1994).

Shamefully high fatality and injury rates continued beyond the early twentieth century. Into the 1990’s, the Iron Workers continued to report losing about 100 members a year to workplace accidents. Responding to National Safety Council statistics suggesting that 14,000 Americans are killed and 2.5 million permanently injured in workplace accidents every year, the United States Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 “to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources.” At the time of OSHA’s passage, the country was losing more men and women to workplace accidents than to the war in Vietnam. Today, according to OSHA’s own numbers, 6,000 American workers per year die from workplace accidents, 6 million American workers per year suffer injuries due to such accidents, and 50,000 American workers per year die from illnesses related to occupational hazards. Linder, 20 J. Legis. 99; see also Getting Away with Murder: Federal OSHA Preemption of State Criminal Prosecutions for Industrial Accidents. 101 Harv. L. Rev. 535 (1987).

Death and disability due to unsafe or unhealthy workplaces remain America’s hidden epidemic. In 1994, there were 6.8 million job-related injuries and illnesses in the private sector alone, an average of more than 18,000 injuries and/or illnesses each day. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, 1994. The cost of these injuries and illnesses has been estimated at $120 billion for 1994 alone. National Safety Council, Accident Facts, (1995 Edition). Researchers at Mt. Sinai Medical School have estimated that 50,000 to 70,000 workers die each year as a result of major occupationally acquired diseases like cancer, lung disease and coronary heart disease. Landrigan PJ, Baker DB, “The recognition and control of occupational disease,” Journal of the American Medical Association 1991;266:676-80. In 1998, the number of confirmed deaths due to occupational injuries in the U.S. was 6,026, approximately one-tenth the estimated number of deaths due to occupational illnesses. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries,” 1998, U.S. Department of Labor, August 4, 1999. In 2007 in the United States there were 4 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses and 5657 fatal injuries. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Workplace Injuries and Illnesses in 2007; National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2007.

Unfortunately, Hispanic workers disproportionately suffer workplace injury and death. In 2009 the following headline appeared in USA Today, “Hispanic worker deaths up 76%, [while] U.S. job fatalities fall in same span.” Workplace safety violations of the kind this case is about disproportionately maime Hispanic workers in America today. “[R]ecent statistics reveal an ethnic fatality trend evidenced by an alarming increase in Hispanic worker deaths.” An article from the New Jersey Law Journal discusses this problem:

A casual drive past a residential construction site in New Jersey on any given day will reveal that the framers and roofers are working at elevations where they are exposed to significant risk of catastrophic injury or death. The problem, however, is not limited to New Jersey; it is industry wide. The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) recently completed the most comprehensive analysis of fatalities in the residential homebuilding industry. Falls from elevation continue to be the leading cause of fatalities and the highest proportion of those killed worked for small contractors with less than 10 employers.

While injury on residential work-sites certainly occurs across all demographics, recent statistics reveal an ethnic fatality trend evidenced by an alarming increase in Hispanic worker deaths. The NAHB concluded that 28 percent of all fall fatalities were Hispanic workers and 29 percent were foreign born. Between 2003–2006, 34 percent of all Hispanic worker deaths occurred in residential construction—an increase of 370 percent over prior periods. These statistics do not include the number of workers that suffer career-ending or catastrophic spinal or brain injuries as a result of falls.

The federal government recently reported that 937 Hispanic workers died from job-related injuries in 2007, representing a 76% increase from 1992. Most striking, however, is that the nationwide total decreased during the same period; Hispanics died in record numbers as the American workplace became safer.

The workplace injury lawyers at the Clark Law Firm, P.C. are experienced in handling liability claims related to worksite accidents, as well as other accident and personal injury claims. Contact our New Jersey workplace injury lawyers today for a free consultation!

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