Dying for Work in Massachusetts: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces

April 25, 2013

Alfred Cabiya, 56, was working for Trico Welding setting up temporary office trailers when he and two of his co-workers became pinned between the massive objects. One worker was able to free himself on his own, another required the use of a crane to become dislodged, but Cabiya was killed.

Today, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupation Safety and Health (MassCOSH) released Dying for Work in Massachusetts: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces, a new report documenting the loss of life taking place at worksites across Massachusetts. The 19-page report details how 32 workers like Cabiya lost their lives on the job in 2012 as well as what must be done to keep workers safe. Click here to view the report.

Dying for Work also highlights the startling rate at which occupational illnesses are killing workers. In 2012, the report estimates 320 workers died in Massachusetts from occupational diseases. It estimates that asbestos exposure alone caused over 90 deaths in Massachusetts this past year.

Catherine Devitt lost her husband Geoffrey Almeida to an asbestos-related cancer known as mesothelioma in 2011. Almeida did boat building and repair on the North Shore of Massachusetts, an occupation where asbestos exposure is well-documented.

“Geoffrey’s nickname was ‘Mr. Be Careful,’” said Devitt. “If he had been aware that a product that he or a co-worker was going to expose himself to was so dangerous, he would have taken the strictest precaution. It’s a terrible thing when a ‘Mr. Be Careful’ dies an unnecessary death because somebody made an economic decision to use asbestos in a product.”

In addition to occupational diseases, the report also highlights several concerning statistics:

  • The construction industry remains one of the most dangerous for workers, with six on-the-job fatalities occurring in 2012 (19% of total). Four fishermen/boat captains died on the job, accounting for 13% of total workplace deaths. Firefighters suffered 7 (22% of total) line of duty fatalities, all of which were due to work-related cancer and heart disease.
  • It would currently take 140 years for OSHA to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction in Massachusetts.
  • In 2012, the average fine (based on final penalties) assessed to a Massachusetts employer with OSHA violations resulting in the death of a worker was $9,590. Of the five closed investigations resulting in a penalty, all but one was settled for $12,000 or under.

“Although the number of Massachusetts workers killed every year varies, the number of individuals who succumb to occupational diseases consistently remains in the hundreds, often on par with those killed in car accidents,” said the report’s co-author Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of MassCOSH. “This report helps shine a spotlight on this silent epidemic and what must be done to protect ourselves and our co-workers who are simply attempting to make a living.”

To protect workers, the report stresses many actions be taken, including strengthened OSHA regulations and enforcement, including use of criminal prosecution to deter employers who recklessly endanger workers’ lives and passing legislation to extend OSHA protections to public employees.

The release of Dying for Work in Massachusetts also coincides with Workers’ Memorial Day, an event observed around the world every year in late April to remember workers killed and injured on the job. In Massachusetts, Workers’ Memorial Day will be commemorated on the steps of the State House on April 25 at 12:00 pm.
“The tragic events in Boston last week serve to underscore the risk that workers take each day when we leave our homes,” said Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman. “OSHA standards, union protections and safety training have helped make our workplaces safer, but there is much work left to be done. Thirty-two families lost a loved one last year; we must work to ensure that employers are doing all they can to protect their workers.”
Catherine Devitt will also be using Workers’ Memorial Day to bring attention to the human cost of unsafe workplaces.
“Geoffrey would have felt like it was important to be here. That’s how some of us keep their spirit alive – by trying to do the things that they would have done,” said Devitt.