May 13, 2019
The following article is the editorial from The SPARK’S workplace newsletters for the week of May 6, 2019.
Over 5,000 workers died in this country from “accidents” suffered on the job. Almost 95,000 more died from occupational illnesses. Another three and a half million workers were injured or made ill from conditions in their workplaces. All of this in just one year, 2017.
Those figures come from state and federal occupational safety offices – offices which often bend over backwards to exonerate employers.
Many people in Detroit remember when a construction worker fell seven floors to his death in 2017. He was working on a super project – Little Caesar’s Arena – whose contractors were pushing hard to get the arena done within the deadline.
The county coroner ruled that the death was the result of an industrial accident. The inspector for MIOSHA (the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration) also ruled the death an industrial accident. But the heads of MIOSHA over-ruled both their own inspector and the coroner. They called it a “suicide”!
MIOSHA heads also accused their inspector of “insubordination” and drove him to retire. Then they destroyed all his notes about the worker’s fall.
So a 46-year-old electrician’s death goes into the records for 2017 not as an industrial accident, for which the employer is liable, but as the suicide of a single individual, whose widow can’t get workers compensation death benefits.
How many other rulings like that cover the truth about industrial accidents?
In fact, the only people who really can uncover the truth are the people who go to work every day in the workplaces of the whole country.
We are there when the “accidents” happen. We see what happens and how it happens. We know what the conditions are. We’ve seen supervisors push someone to keep working despite the lack of safeguards. We know about the demands to work faster – demands that inevitably lead to more injuries and illnesses.
We know what could be done to prevent “accidents” – these “accidents” which aren’t really accidental. They result from the cold-blooded calculations employers make – will it cost more to pay for safety, or to pay the fine when a worker dies?
So who can stop the carnage? Not the companies – their chase for profit brings it on.
What about OSHA? Even if every OSHA inspector did an exceptional job, they couldn’t begin to touch the problem. How could they? In 2017, there were just over 1,800 federal and state inspectors to cover 9,000,000 workplaces. That’s 5,000 workplaces for each inspector. If each inspector visited one workplace a day, 365 days a year, it would take them over 13 years just to visit every workplace just one time!
Those few inspectors can’t begin to do what the many millions of us who are in all the workplaces every day can do easily.
All of us together make everything run. We do the work, we know what’s safe, what’s not safe. We are in the middle of production, in the offices, in the field. Inspectors are workers too – the ones who study fumes in the air, chemicals in the water. Researchers who study PFAS in the groundwater and soil are workers too. So are the technicians who record this information. Bring ourselves together all over the country, and we could organize work so everyone could go home every night still healthy and sound in bodies and minds.
We would throw profit out as the basis for calculating safety. We would use a healthy body as our standard. We would suppress all conditions that interfered with every worker’s health and safety.
Does it sound like a pipe dream? Well, of course it is, so long as profit is king. So long as capitalism runs the show.
To have safe and healthy conditions at work – just like so many other things – requires us to work together to take on this system and its damned profit. It requires us to run the show!
Who better than us to run things? Who better than the workers who produce everything, record everything, ship everything, build everything, analyze everything, deliver everything?