By Sheri Williams
At least 422 California workers were killed on the job in 2018, the latest year for which data is available, a 12 percent increase from the prior year, according to a new report by Worksafe, a workers’ rights nonprofit based in Oakland.
The annual report, released on Workers’ Memorial Day, is meant to highlight the working women and men who died on the job, and the need to continue to fight for workplace rights.
The report found that California’s occupational fatality rate is 2.3 deaths per 100,000 workers — a slight uptick from the past few years. While it remains lower than the national rate of 3.5 deaths per 100,000 workers, the report found that people of color and women were especially vulnerable.
Also this year, the report focused on COVID-19, and the crisis of safety it is causing for frontline workers.
“The coronavirus pandemic is the occupational health and safety disaster of our lifetime. We must treat it as such, and California should lead the way,” the report read.
“This extraordinary crisis has amplified existing inequities in our economy. Long-standing, unacceptable inequities that consistently put the poorest and most vulnerable workers on the front lines of the most dangerous jobs. Workers in our state are losing their lives by going to work without adequate protections,” the report continued.
But, “despite these tremendously troubling times, there are reasons to be hopeful. Workers and [occupational health and safety] advocates across the country are rising to meet the crisis — coming together to create resources and craft strategy. Frontline workers are organizing and protesting unsafe and unfair conditions. Mutual aid efforts are blossoming. There is a growing recognition that a return to ‘normal’ won’t suffice, and we are imagining alternative futures.”
The report, entitled ‘Dying at Work in California’ presents an overview of workplace fatalities based on the most recent data available from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) — a collaborative effort between the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and state agencies. The most recent data were released in December 2019 and covers fatal injuries that occurred during the 2018 calendar year.
The report pointed out that California Labor has long been on the forefront of protecting medical workers, and has in place some of the most stringent requirements in the country that have helped those nurses and others stay safer.
“California stands alone in the US in having prepared for this moment through the creation of the detailed Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) Standard in 2009, a hard-fought victory in the campaign to defend healthcare workers from transmissible diseases. It establishes a framework for protecting healthcare workers and patients from novel pathogens like COVID-19, specifies the layers of protection needed to protect staff, and stipulates the need to plan for ‘surge’ situations,” the report said.
But it cautioned that some employers are not abiding by the rules.
“Our ATD Standard could serve as a national model for protecting healthcare workers. Unfortunately, we are hearing from nurses’ unions and other medical professionals that many hospitals never implemented the ATD Standard well over the past decade, let alone the many other workplaces where the standard also applies. And they have been wholly unprepared to address the crisis of COVID-19,” it read.
The report found that for the 2018 deaths, transportation incidents were the most common cause of fatal workplace injury with 155 California workers dying in transportation incidents, making up 37 percent of total workplace fatalities.
Violence was the second leading cause of workplace death in 2018, killing 92 workers and accounting for 22 percent of all fatal occupational injuries in California, the report found. Sixty-two of the violent workplace deaths were homicides, and more than two-thirds of these involved gun violence.
The report also found that violence continues to be the leading cause of workplace death for women: 15 of the 38 women killed at work in 2018 were victims of violence, more than 40 percent.