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Is the government doing enough to keep workers safe on the job?

Did you know that in 2012, more than 4,600 workers died in the United States while on the job? Compared to the roughly 3.8 million who suffered a work-related injury and the likely 50,000 who died from occupational diseases, this number seems small. But as many of our San Diego readers will probably tell you, even one work-related death means that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Which leads us to this week’s post title question: is the government doing enough to keep workers safe on the job? It’s a difficult question to answer that includes a yes and no response. If we look at current government efforts, the answer could be yes. But if we look at government efforts in the past, the answer could be very different.

According to AFL-CIO’s 2014 report entitled “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” workplace safety agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration fell into disrepair under the Bush administration. These two agencies are crucial when it comes to identifying safety hazards in workplaces across the nation and addressing them before they escalate. But because of understaffing and a lack of funding, these agencies were unable to suggest and implement strict safety standards that would have prevented workers from suffering injuries and/or illnesses.

Fortunately, the Obama administration has made it their mission to making workplaces safer by appointing workplace-safety advocates who are more likely to hold companies accountable when they violate safety regulations. So far, the administration has put pressure on workplace safety agencies to push through legislation that will put tougher restrictions on exposure to silica and coal dust, which can cause serious occupational illnesses.

The long-term fix though, says AFL-CIO, will be for the government to increase funding to agencies like OSHA and MSHA so that they can staunch the problems with workplace safety now before it gets out of control.

Source: AFL-CIO, "Todays Death Toll: 150 Workers," Mike Hall, May 8, 2014

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