Dying To Work in America

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International, Worker's Rights

By Jamison Maeda

Every 12 hours, someone dies in a work related accident in the United States.  In 2011, more than 4,600 people were killed in accidents at work in the U.S. Despite these figures, more than half of Americans surveyed are still in favor of smaller government and less corporate regulation. The idea being fewer taxes and less constraint on economic growth, but the cost is several thousand deaths annually and more than 4 million injuries.

Two weeks ago, on April 17th the West Texas Fertilizer Plant exploded, killing 15 people including two people at home in their apartment. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is one of the agencies tasked with managing the working conditions and safety of workers in the U.S.  But corporate influence over government has defunded OSHA to the point that only about 2,000 inspectors are responsible for 130 million workers. That means one inspector for every 60,000 workers. In comparison many European countries have six times as many inspectors per worker. And though these numbers are grim and frequently have disastrous results, there is little hope for improvement as the Republican controlled U.S. Congress has prevented OSHA as well as the Environmental Protection Agency from even hiring a director. Even now in the face of this latest disaster, a Republican sponsored bill has been proposed that will reduce the powers of the EPA even further. Because of this, these agencies generally can only inspect a work site after an accident has occurred. The West Texas Fertilizer Plant was inspected only once since 1985.

Who pays when something goes tragically wrong?

Since April 17th, the Red Cross has provided over 18,000 meals for the more than 300 families impacted by the West Texas explosion. President Obama has pledged disaster aid for the town but was not able to commit to developing new, preventative safety measures. The West Texas Fertilizer Company itself will likely face no criminal charges even though they failed to notify the Department of Homeland Security that they were holding 270 tons of ammonium nitrate (American companies are required to report stocks of more than 400 pounds.) Most likely the company will be paid back for any losses by their insurance companies, and will rebuild either in the same place or in the middle of another small town.

Without adequate funding OSHA and other government agencies responsible for the safety of workers in America are completely helpless. The number of workers’ deaths is not on the decline and can in fact get much worse. One week after the West Texas explosion a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 400 workers. Working Americans need their own public representatives who will put workers first instead of corporate interests.