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By Stephen Lee
April 27 — Older workers represent a large and growing share of workplace fatalities, according to a report issued by the AFL-CIO April 27.
In 2014, the last year for which Bureau of Labor Statistics data are available, 35 percent of all workers who died on the job were 55 or older, the report says. The total number of deaths, 1,691, is the highest ever recorded for this group of workers (see related story).
Workers 65 or older are three times more likely to die on the job as other workers, the report found.
The biggest cause of older worker deaths is falls, possibly because those 55 and over don't have the balance or resilience as their younger counterparts, Peg Seminario, safety and health director of the AFL-CIO, said during a conference call with reporters. For that reason, Seminario stressed the importance of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's pending walking/working surfaces rule (RIN 1218-AB80).
At the same time, more older workers are entering the workforce, Seminario said.
Roughly one in four workers will be 55 or older by 2020, BLS estimates.
AFL-CIO's annual report, the 25th of its kind, also found that the number of deaths in 2014 rose 5.1 percent from the previous year, from 4,585 to 4,821. The death rate, too, was 0.1 percent higher.
Seminario said she was particularly troubled by the increase in the death rate because it can't be explained away by sheer employment growth, the way the raw number of deaths can. BLS says 3 million new jobs were created in 2014.
Further, while Latino worker fatality rates went down in 2014, from 3.9 per 100,000 workers to 3.7, they remain at the highest risk of all groups of workers, Seminario said. Of the 804 Latino workers who were killed on the job in 2013, 64 percent were immigrants, the report found.
Wyoming had the highest death rate, with 13.1 fatalities per 100,000 workers. The next-deadliest states were North Dakota (9.8), Alaska (7.8), South Dakota (7.2) and Mississippi (7.1). The last two states are “somewhat new” to the list, Seminario said.
Later during the press call, Rebecca Reindel, senior safety and health specialist at the AFL-CIO, spoke about the growing problem of workplace violence, which caused 765 deaths and more than 26,000 serious injuries in 2014.
Although that rate is down slightly from the previous year, the overall trend line for violence in the workplace has been rising, Reindel said. Many of those deaths and injuries are occurring in the health care sector, she said.
One of the speakers during the call, a registered nurse who identified herself only as Kay, described the chronic violence she and her co-workers experience from patients at the psychiatric facility where they work.
Workers need security guards, video cameras that are constantly monitored, protections from having to work in isolation or without enough staff, de-escalation training and self-defense training, comprehensive analyses when violent events occur, and an enforceable OSHA standard that requires health care facilities to implement prevention plans, Kay said.
“Employers would argue it's just part of the job,” Seminario said. “It's not.”
Seminario also said Republicans in Congress and the business community have been effective in blocking needed changes.
“Industry opposition and ideological opposition to worker protections has just gotten extreme,” Seminario said. “It's ideological. They want no oversight. They don't want to be told what to do.”
However, Seminario also said that, with growing public attention to the plight of the middle class, “hopefully the tone of things is changing.”
AFl-CIO President Richard Trumka echoed that message in a statement, saying, “Working people should not have to risk their lives to make a living and support their families. Yet every day, millions of Americans are forced to work with little to no safety protections while big businesses and corporations profit off our lives.”
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The AFL-CIO report, “Death on the Job,” is available at http://www.aflcio.org/content/download/174867/4158803/1647_DOTJ2016.pdf.
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