New Report Documents Loss of Workers Lives on the Job in 2019 and 2020

April 29, 2021

Press Release 




Jodi Sugerman-Brozan 


New Report Documents Loss of Workers Lives  on the Job in 2019 and 2020 

Links for the first time working outside the home to a dramatic risk of death due to COVID-19 

On December 10, 2019, Vidal Bravo Cifuentes, a 34-year-old day laborer, was killed during a tree removal operation at a house in Wakefield. Undertrained by his employer on how to stay safe on the job, Cifuentes was told to hold a guide rope that was connected to a damaged tree. When the tree snapped, he was thrown against a rock and killed. 

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 report found that 45 workers, including Cifuentes, lost their lives on the job in Massachusetts in 2020 and features brand-new government data that strongly links work to SARS-CoV-2 exposure and death. Click here to read the report

Long thought that working outside the home would put workers at higher risk of COVID-19, the report features breaking government data showing that those who physically reported to work died from COVID-19 at higher rates than other workers. Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Community Impact Survey results released today show that Massachusetts residents working outside the home in the spring and summer of 2020 were nearly twice as likely to report testing positive for COVID-19, compared to those working from home.  

Workers in 10 occupations that includes healthcare support workers, transportation and material moving workers, and food preparation and serving related workers died of COVID-19 at a higher rate than the average working population. The eight occupation groups with the highest mortality rates were more likely to work outside the home than the average worker. Workers in the top seven deadliest occupations were less likely to work in settings with social distancing, and workers in the top six were less likely to be provided or know how to access paid sick leave during the pandemic. The report also features findings from a recent study that confirm well‐documented racial disparities in COVID‐19 deaths. Hispanic and Black workers had mortality rates nearly five times white workers.  Disparities existed even within the same occupation group. For instance, Hispanic food preparation and serving workers had a mortality rate eight times that of white workers in the same occupation. 

In 2020, worker deaths in Massachusetts in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industry represented 21% of those killed on the job from fatal injury, making it the most dangerous sector for workers in the state. The next most dangerous sector was the construction industry, with construction deaths accounting for 18% of workers fatally injured on the job. Transportation incidents, which includes motor vehicle crashes and workers struck by vehicles or equipment, were the leading cause of death from injuries in Massachusetts in 2020, contributing to 48% of all worker deaths from injuries. Compared to previous years, the number or workplace fatalities resulting from fatal injuries at work was down sharply in 2020 as Massachusetts (72 workers were killed in 2019, 77 in 2018 and 80 in 2017) was largely closed for business. However, rates are on the rise with nine workers killed in the first part of 2021 already.  

Noting that this April marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act that created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the report details the agency’s multiple failures to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as Governor Baker’s failure to implement workplace protections that could have saved lives and reduced spread. To protect workers from the continued danger of workplace exposure to COVID-19, the report expresses the need for OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard as directed by President Joseph Biden Executive Order in January 2021. It also calls for a law that provides occupational presumption for workers on the front lines of the pandemic to ensure that those that contract COVID-19 due to workplace exposure are provided workers’ compensation benefits.  To stem loss of life, the report also demands more resources for Local Boards of Health and the Department of Labor Standards, the two departments in charge of enforcing COVID-19 Workplace Safety Regulations, and a new law requiring that contractors that do business with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts report their record of safety violations so that taxpayer funds can be awarded to safe employers. 

“2020 was a year like none other,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan. “COVID-19 sickened and killed hundreds, if not thousands, of workers in Massachusetts who had no choice but to work, providing essential services to those of us who could stay home. We hope this report’s findings help demonstrate how urgent it is that we take action to protect workers from this deadly virus, as well as other workplace hazards. While we mourn today for those workers lost, we also recommit ourselves to the promise of safe jobs for all.”