Tennessee Workers: Dying for a Job: A Report on Worker Fatalities in Tennessee 2013 & 2014Abstract:
This report includes the following:
The list that opens this Report shows 172 known Tennessee worker fatalities for 2013-14. Assembled from public records, available news sources, and the work of voluntary groups that honor fallen workers, it is only a partial tally.
Tennessee Worker Deaths: An Overview
Some of the deaths reported here were probably unrelated to conditions within an employer’s control. However, the majority involved hazards that could have been eliminated with proper care or managed in a way that avoided death or serious injury. Some of the numbers have improved since 2010, but Tennessee’s average rate remains unacceptably high — averaging 32% above the national rate in the most recent five years of available federal data.
Some encouraging signs are visible:
- Modest decline in fatalities. Federal data indicate that the number and rate of job fatalities in Tennessee declined between 2010 and 2013.
- Promising new initiative at TDOT. The Tennessee Department of Transportation is investigating how it may better evaluate the safety record of companies seeking to bid for TDOT contracts.
- Reducing abuse of immigrant workers. Two state courts in 2014 upheld the right of undocumented workers to workers’ compensation protections, and a federal task force is charged with reducing conflict between labor and immigration laws.
Serious problems remain:
- Occupational disease. Workplace death from trauma represents only the tip of the iceberg. Many workers continue to contract occupational illness after exposure to dust, radiation, repetitive motion, and toxic chemicals. Yet resulting harms are not captured in lists like ours.
- Deaths on public works. Deaths of men engaged in the public’s work in 2013 and 2014 continue to show that state and local agencies of many kinds need to do a better job in selecting contractors with the demonstrated capacity to achieve a culture of safety on the job.
- Disproportionate injury and death for Latino workers. Employed in some of Tennessee’s most dangerous and dirty jobs, Latino immigrant workers still account for a disproportionate share of job fatalities. Health and safety practices have not caught up with new demographics.
- Enforcement issues. Penalties for violating safety standards are still so low they barely constitute a nuisance when compared to the money an employer can save by cutting corners. The estimated time it would take for TOSHA to investigate every covered worksite in Tennessee now stands at 82 years — up alarmingly from the “mere” 69-year span estimated last year.
- Workers’ Compensation. Workers’ compensation is a crucial piece of our over-all system for dealing with the issue of workplace injury and death, but it has been substantially weakened in recent years, and a proposal before the General Assembly in spring 2015 threatens worse.
Some nineteen in all are directed at the federal, state and local government, as well as public and private employers.