While the total number of workplace deaths in Massachusetts declined slightly between 2017 and 2018, the number of on-the-job deaths stemming from violence almost doubled in the same period, according to a report issued Thursday.
The findings from the latest annual report by worker advocacy group Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health and union organization Massachusetts AFL-CIO indicate that despite progress in recent years to increase workplace safety, more needs to be done.
“[T]here are still an alarming number of people who are dying preventable deaths on the job, hands down,” MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan said in a phone interview on Thursday. “It means we still have a lot of work to do.”
The report’s findings are based on data obtained from government agencies, including the Occupational Safety Hazard Administration.
Sixty nine people died while at work or from work-related circumstances in Massachusetts last year, down from 74 in 2017, according to the report. Nine of those deaths were caused by violence, which includes shooting deaths during robberies and the killing of on-duty police officers.
The number of deaths caused by violence doubled between 2016 and 2017, and almost doubled between 2017 and 2018, though the report did not identify a single underlying cause for the increases. Since 2011 there have been 35 violence-related workplace deaths in Massachusetts.
Non-fatal violence in the workplace is also an issue, particularly in the health care industry, according to the report.
Overall, the leading cause of workplace deaths was transportation incidents, which accounted for 29 percent of fatalities. Thirty-six percent of those deaths were in the construction industry, the highest proportion overall.
The report emphasized the risks firefighters in particular face in the workplace from toxic chemicals and other substances used to fight fires.
Ten firefighters died in 2018 from diseases contracted through work, including cancer.
Meanwhile, the report notes that OSHA oversight of workplaces has declined since 2016 and the agency has demonstrated a willingness to negotiate with employers for smaller fines for violations.
The report highlighted other issues, including the strain on sections of the workforce from climate change, dwindling worker’s compensation pay-outs, and opioid-related deaths.
The report identifies several strategies that could be utilized to reduce deaths, including more regulation and better legislation to limit exposure to toxic chemicals in the workplace; disqualifying contractors with safety violations from winning state contracts; requiring employers to institute more stringent safety measures; and increasing staffing levels in the workplace.
State Representative Paul Brodeur, chairperson for the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, said legislators need to keep the findings in mind as they work on legislation to improve the wellbeing of workers.
“It is important to build that culture of safety and extend that out and create the opportunity for training and enforcement because ultimately what we want is for people who go to work to come back home,” he said.
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