Boston,MA(WorkersCompensation.com) - On November 3, 2017, Antawani Wright-Davis, 19, was stuck by a dump truck and killed while working for the food delivery service DoorDash in Boston. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), never investigated his death. When applying to work for DoorDash, Wright-Davis, like others working in the new gig economy, had to declare himself an independent contractor, meaning he would fall outside of the protections of OSHA while also making himself responsible for his own health and safety, workers' compensation insurance, payroll taxes, and many other responsibilities that would be covered by a traditional employer.
Wright-Davis was the youngest of the 74 workers in Massachusetts who died of occupational injuries sustained on the job from January 2017 to March 1, 2018, an 11-year high.
Today, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) released a new report documenting the loss of life taking place at worksites across Massachusetts. Titled Dying for Work in Massachusetts: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces, the 32-page report details how workers like Wright-Davis lost their lives on the job and what must be done to keep workers safe.
The report highlights several findings, including:
The construction industry remains the most dangerous for workers, accounting for 21 deaths, 33% of all workplace deaths.
Transportation incidents were the leading cause of fatal injuries in Massachusetts. 31 workers lost their lives in some form of transportation incident, which include nine workers hit by vehicles, and two fishermen who died at sea. A large number of deadly transportation incidents occurred because workers were not wearing a seatbelt. Transportation incidents were also the leading cause of fatal injuries in 2016.
There were more than 79,800 recordable incidents of non-fatal recordable occupational injuries and illnesses in Massachusetts, ailments that can affect a worker for the rest of their lives (data taken from the most recent year for which data is available).
In Massachusetts, there are 29 OSHA inspectors, roughly one inspector for every 115,863 workers. It would take 182 years for OSHA to pay a single visit to each workplace in the state.
The report noted Massachusetts experienced a 11-year high in its worker fatality rate. In 2017, 2.1 workers suffered fatal injuries per 100,000 workers.
New this year is the preliminary investigation into the effects the opioid epidemic is having on workplace safety. In previous years, deaths due to opioid use related to work were not included in the report due to data not being readily available on the same timeline as data on other fatalities. However, due to a 600% increase in opioid-related deaths from 2015 to 2016, the report now included figures regarding the troubling epidemic.
“Our report this year illustrates that the changing nature of work in our country is taking its toll on workers,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan. “Not only is this affecting temp workers and those in the gig economy, but also those in more traditional jobs but with low job security or inadequate paid sick time. These workers, when injured, feel pressure to return to work before they are ready and to work in pain, a situation that can easily lead to addiction to dangerous painkillers, and as we are increasingly seeing, overdose and death.”
The report reviews worker protections repealed by President Donald Trump, including the rolling back of the Workplace Injury and Illness recordkeeping rule, weakening anti-discrimination laws, and discontinuing President Obama's Fair Pay and Safe Workplace executive order from 2014.
“We mourn for the workers lost this year, every workplace death is one too many,” said Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven A. Tolman. “We lack leadership at the federal level for improving working conditions, and under President Trump, we are going backwards. However, Massachusetts continues to be a beacon of hope this year, passing legislation extending OSHA safety to the public sector which improves protection for hundreds of thousands of workers."
The release of Dying for Work coincides with Workers' Memorial Day, an event observed around the world every year on April 28 to remember workers killed and injured on the job. In Boston, Workers' Memorial Day was commemorated Friday, April 27, on the steps of the State House at noon, observed by slain workers' family members, union representatives, safety experts, and state officials.
The report uncovers a broad range of measures that would avert needless loss of life and limb on the job, including:
Fully funding the Occupational Health Surveillance Program (OHSP) housed in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which tracks occupational injury data. Passing S.2327 An Act to prevent wage theft and promote employer accountability, a bill that would hold companies that subcontract, outsource, or use temporary agencies jointly responsible for wages and the health and safety of those workers.
Passing H.3633 An Act relative to workplace safety, that would enact permitting measures that require employers to submit records of OSHA violations and the safety procedures they will use to protect workers and the public. Boston passed similar legislation after the 2016 drowning deaths of two workers in the South End and has used it to deny permits for businesses with troubling OSHA safety records.
Despite a markedly anti-worker executive and legislative branch, MassCOSH's coalition has recently won a series of local and state victories in the past year. They include:
Governor Charlie Baker signing a bill on March 9, 2018, that amends Massachusetts General Law and extends OSHA safety for all public sector workers. MassCOSH worked hard, along with a coalition of labor groups, for over a decade to get the bill passed. With the passage of the new law, almost 430,000 municipal workers will be granted important health and safety OSHA protections.
The Massachusetts legislature passed the Criminal Justice Reform bill this April, updating Massachusetts corporate manslaughter law. The penalty will now be up to a $250,000 fine (increased from a $1,000 maximum fine), and authorizes debarment from state contracts for up to 10 years. MassCOSH and allies pushed hard for this reform after the needless downing deaths of two workers in Boston in 2016.
On April 1, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act went into effect in Massachusetts, adding pregnancy and related conditions as a protected category under Section 4 of Chapter 151B, the same section that covers age, sex, and disability. It is now illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition and also makes it illegal for an employer to deny a reasonable accommodation for a pregnant or nursing employee.