4,340. That’s how many lives were ended by workplace injuries in this country in 2009 (the most recent year for which we have statistics). That’s probably more people than went to your high school. It’s many times the number of people in my town. It’s much larger than the largest family reunion you’ve ever been to. It’s an almost unimaginable scale of death.
50,000. That’s how many died from occupational-related illnesses such as black lung. Somehow, it’s so difficult to imagine the death of 50,000 people that it’s almost an easier number to read than 4,340. Yet if you consider that’s 136 human lives ended every day, you can start to wrap your arms around the idea. That’s my entire high school graduating class. It’s the size of a small church community. It’s the number of people who show up for a controversial issue at the town council. And it’s every day.
4,000,000-12,000,000. That’s the number of non-fatal workplace injuries, such as paralysis, brain trauma, and amputation. It also includes smaller but life-altering injuries such as torn rotator cuffs, 3rd-degree burns, and crushed hands.
A new report from the AFL-CIO Department of Safety and Health outlines these statistics and breaks the information down by state, industry, and sector. Page 85 of the report shows how long it would take for OSHA to actually inspect all the work sites in a given state with current level of staffing. If you are lucky, you live in the best case state of Oregon, where you could expect an inspection sometime in the next 23 years. But if you live in Florida, well maybe some of your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren will get to work in a place that’s had an inspection, because it will take OSHA about 240 years to get around to it.
Has anyone else noticed that workers are starting to stand up and say “Enough!” The unions fought hard for OSHA, and now we all need to fight to make it an agency with more teeth. Nothing would be a more fitting tribute to the men, women, and children who are dying on the job every day.