Make worker health and safety a priority

The Midstate Council for Occupational Safety & Health (MCOSH), based in Ithaca, serves central New York and joins the nationwide call for workplace health and safety protection on Wednesday, Workers’ Memorial Day.

Nearly 5,000 workers in the United States lose their lives on the job every year as the result of an acute traumatic injury. The death toll from long-term exposure to toxic chemicals and other workplace hazards is far higher, exceeding 95,000 annually.

To address this appalling death toll, the “Protecting Workers’ Lives & Limbs” campaign is being advanced by the National Council for Occupational Safety & Health, and has been endorsed by MCOSH and more than 90 organizations representing workers, unions, environmentalists and civic groups. The goals of the program include:

•Making worker health and safety a priority.

•Increasing worker participation.

•Reducing and finding substitutes for the use of toxic chemicals.

•Measures to adapt to — and reduce the impacts of — further climate change.

There were 16 acute workplace fatalities in Rep. Tom Reed’s district in 2016, including five tractor-trailer drivers killed on the road; five farmers or farm workers killed in tractor incidents (transportation and agriculture routinely have the highest number of fatalities); a roofer who fell from a roof to his death; and a logger who was crushed by a log.

Two hundred and thirty-six workers died on the job from preventable workplace trauma in New York state in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationwide, the death toll from preventable workplace trauma is more than 4,836 workers nationwide every year.

As a smart business practice, a comprehensive platform of stronger worker safety protections can not only save workers’ lives, but also reduce costs to employers in New York. The costs to U.S. employers for workers’ compensation alone was more than $ 600 million in New York, and $ 91.8 billion nationwide in 2014, representing a fraction of the total cost of workplace deaths, injuries and illnesses.

Improved workplace health and safety would allow businesses to reduce their workers’ compensation costs — without punishing injured workers through the conventional means of saving money by reducing benefits or mandating stricter burdens of proof on already stressed-out sick or injured employees.

Though the number of workplace deaths has steadily decreased over the past two decades due to OSHA regulations and improved safety measures, many so-called accidents could be prevented.

The goals proposed in the Protecting Workers’ Lives & Limbs agenda are common-sense solutions to advance a vision we all share: ensuring that all workers go to work at a safe and healthy job, and can return to their homes and families without injury or illness — or worse.

Tony Del Plato is a board member for the Midstate Council on Occupational Safety & Health, based in Ithaca.

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