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GRAPHIC: As OSHA’s Budget Drops, Workplace Fatalities Rise (and Other Obvious, Important Conclusions)

Newly compiled data in the form of a stunning infographic from Compliance and Safety analyzes the latest information on workplace fatalities. While workplace fatalities have been dropping, there remains a clear correlation between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) budget and the number of victims at work. Small steps could easily save lives on the work site, the graphic suggests.

Of the years researched by the report, 1994 saw the highest fatality numbers with 6,632 victims. That year, OSHA’s budget was around $300 million. As OSHA’s budget grew, the number of victims dropped. There was a slight spike during the Bush Administration in 2006 when workplaces claimed 5,840 victims despite a rise in OSHA budget. From that year on, though, the number of fatalities plummets to 4,547 by 2010, a year in which the OSHA budget was $558 million. The recession may have played a small role in this drop as many Americans were out of work. However, the correlation between budget and victims remains a powerful reminder of the dangers of steep cuts to important programs.

Interestingly, Wisconsin and Oklahoma had the same number of fatalities, 91, in 2010 despite a steep population difference (Oklahoma: 3,791,508 compared to Wisconsin: 5,711,767). Oklahoma, though, is a “Right-to-Work” state where unions, and their safety oversight, have minimal power. Another example of a “Right-to-Work” state having higher fatality rates than more populated union-friendly states is Alabama (pop: 4,802,740, fatalities 86) versus Minnesota (pop: 5,344,861, fatalities 69).

But “Right-to-Work” isn’t the only indicator; fatality rates have to do with the industries in a given state as well. For example, the lumber state of Washington had 104 fatalities and a population of 6,830,038 (lumber is in the “fatal four” professions) despite being union-friendly, while “Right-to-Work” Georgia only had 82 fatalities with a much larger population of 9,815,210.

While the list is not surprising, it is made up of violations that could easily be monitored if OSHA’s budget was higher. In 2011, OSHA had 2,200 inspectors responsible for the safety of 130 million workers on 8 million worksites. The top two violations involve falls, a type of incident particularly common in the construction industry. According to a CDC study released in June,

The highest frequency of fall-related fatalities was experienced by the construction industry, while the highest counts of nonfatal fall injuries continue to be associated with the health services and the wholesale and retail industries. Healthcare support, building cleaning and maintenance, transportation and material moving, and construction and extraction occupations are particularly at risk of fall injuries.

Circumstances associated with fall incidents in the work environment frequently involve slippery, cluttered, or unstable walking/working surfaces; unprotected edges; floor holes and wall openings; unsafely positioned ladders; and misused fall protection. Federal regulations and industry consensus standards provide specific measures and performance-based recommendations for fall prevention and protection. However, persistent unsafe practices and low safety culture across many industries define steady fall injury rates year after year.

For the full infographic, click HERE.


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