Report: As Workplace Fatalities Rise, Workplace Safety and Health Enforcement Falls to Lowest Level in Decades

BLS Data Shows Fatalities of African American Workers Rose 16% in 2018—Highest in 20 Years

Washington, DC—Even as recent government data reveal a decade high in the number of work-related fatality and catastrophe investigations in workplaces covered by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the number of federal workplace safety and health inspections—and the number of inspectors—has fallen to the lowest level in decades, well below the previous two administrations, according to a report released today by the National Employment Law Project.

“By slashing the number of workplace safety and health inspections—and inspectors—this administration is undermining our government’s ability to protect workers in the most dangerous jobs and industries,” said Debbie Berkowitz, worker safety and health program director with NELP, and author of the report.

The Trump administration also has implemented a new enforcement rating system that disguises the further declines in workplace safety and health enforcement, according to the report.

The NELP report finds that in the first three years of the Trump administration:

  • Federal OSHA conducted an average of 32,610 inspections per year, compared with an average of 38,092 inspections per year under the Obama administrations and 38,482 inspections per year under the Bush administration.
  • The number of federal OSHA inspections in the last three years is less than any three-year period under either the Obama or Bush administrations.

Federal OSHA data also reveal that OSHA now has the lowest number of inspectors on staff in the last 40 years—while the number of workers under OSHA’s jurisdiction has almost doubled.

“This alarming cut-back in workplace safety enforcement has a disparate impact on workers of color, who often work in jobs with the highest risk of injury,” said Berkowitz. “It’s these workers, and their families and communities, who pay the price for this administration’s misguided cutbacks on workplace safety enforcement.”

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that fatalities to African American workers increased 16 percent in 2018, the highest total since 1999. Their fatal injury rate also increased from 3.2 per 100,000 workers in 2017, to 3.6 per 100,000 workers in 2018.

According to the NELP report, OSHA has also cut back on conducting complex inspections focused on some of the most serious and often life-threatening hazards, such as chemical exposures, workplace violence, and dangerous heat, ergonomics, and refinery hazards. OSHA recently introduced a new enforcement measuring system that allows the administration to inflate OSHA’s enforcement numbers with short, quick inspections—while allowing them to hide the fact that they are doing far fewer of the more resource-intensive investigations.

Read the report:

Workplace Safety and Health Enforcement Falls to Lowest Levels in Decades


The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers. For more about NELP, visit Follow NELP on Twitter at @NelpNews.

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