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Dying for Work in New York

(New York, NY - June 11) The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) today released a new report on worker deaths in New York State and presented a copy of the report to Jordan Barab, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The report, Dying for Work in New York, was given to Barab at a briefing he held on Obama Administration priorities for OSHA, sponsored by NYCOSH, the New York State AFL-CIO, and the New York City Central Labor Council. The briefing was held at the New York District Council of Carpenters headquarters in Lower Manhattan.

The report states that a total of 219 workers were killed as a result of occupational injuries in New York State in 2007; 81 died in New York City. Though this is a decline from the 234 workers who died in New York State and the 99 killed in New York City in 2006, immigrant, minority, and non-union workers continue to be at particular risk for on-the-job fatalities.

Among the report’s findings:

· The number of OSHA inspectors in New York State is insufficient to protect its workers— OSHA actually had fewer inspectors in the state in 2007 than in 2001. The ratio of inspectors to workers covered in New York State is 1:88,731—far exceeding the International Labor Organization benchmark for industrialized nations of 1:10,000 workers.

· OSHA’s penalty structure is insufficient to serve as a deterrent. -- the average proposed OSHA fine resulting from a fatality inspection in New York State was $5,193. This is well below the national average of $12,226 for penalties for fatalities in 2007. Not one employer cited for a hazard leading to fatality was referred to the Solicitor’s Office for criminal prosecution, according to the report.

· Fatalities among construction workers remained among the highest of all occupational sectors. New York State had 351,992 workers in the construction industry in 2007, and 57 were killed in 2007. The rate of fatalities in the construction industry was 16.2 per 100,000—over six times the state fatality rate for all workers. In New York City the fatality rate among construction workers was even higher—18.5 deaths per 100,000.

· According to the report, official employment data may not include undocumented workers but “it appears likely that undocumented—and ‘informal’—workers contributed a large portion of the construction boom of the 2000s. In New York City, new residential construction permits rose from 15,050 units in 2000 to 31,902 units in 2007 [6], a 112% increase, while the official number of construction employees working in the city rose only from 117,189 to 124,367—an increase of 6%.

· New York State, compared to the nation as a whole, has both a much higher percentage of unionized workers (24.9% in 2008 vs. 12.4% for the entire nation) and a lower rate of occupational fatalities (2.57 per 100,000 vs. 3.7 per 100,000 nationally).

The report raises concern over OSHA’s move to promulgate a new crane standard, because it pre-empts localities from enforcing standards stronger than those in the regulation. “For New York City, pre-emption would result in significant risks to workers and the general public since it would prevent the New York City Department of Buildings from licensing crane operators, inspecting work sites and enforcing regulations which are significantly stronger than those required in the proposed OSHA regulations,” the report states

“Death and injury in the workplace can be prevented. This report makes it clear that many of OSHA’s problems need to be addressed structurally and that OSHA’s enforcement budget needs to be dramatically increased,” said Joel Shufro, executive director of NYCOSH. “It’s also very clear that OSHA must take immediate steps at defining a targeted strategy to protect non-union and immigrant workers, who continue to be killed on the job in higher numbers every year.”

A copy of the report can be downloaded from the NYCOSH web site, www.nycosh.org.

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