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Workers rights groups strive for safer workplaces after workplace death report

The Massachusetts AFL-CIO released its annual report about work-related injuries and death Sunday, which says 48 workers in the state died on the job in 2013. GRAPHIC BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
The Massachusetts AFL-CIO released its annual report about work-related injuries and death Sunday, which says 48 workers in the state died on the job in 2013. GRAPHIC BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

In anticipation of Workers Memorial Day celebrated Monday to honor those hurt and killed due to injuries in the workplace, a report titled “Dying for Work” was released Sunday about workplace deaths in 2013 and changes made to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

Compiled by Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, the report details the 48 Massachusetts workers who died in the workplace in 2013. Nine of the 48 deaths are attributed to falls, the most common workplace cause of death.

“None of the fatalities were a random never-happened-before, never-happen-again event,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of MassCOSH. “We’re seeing enough similarities between the fatalities that we know there are things that must be done to prevent them.”

The report was intended to look deeper into the causes of each individual victim’s death, placing a spotlight on what the workplace could have done to prevent the event and what further regulations should be put in place, Goldstein-Gelb said.

“We don’t let this report just sit on the wall,” she said. “We look at it all the time to take a look at where we can have a bigger impact.”

While workplace fatalities have remained stable over the past few years, AFL-CIO and MassCOSH are working together, beyond their collaboration on the report, to raise the bar and ensure safe and healthy jobs that provide a sustainable wage and enjoyable working atmosphere to all Massachusetts workers.

Both organizations look to give employees a voice in the workplace, allowing them to advocate for improved conditions should there be a need for them, Goldstein-Gelb said.

“If workers are encouraged to speak up, if they have their respect and are valued by their employers, things are going to be safer,” she said. “One of the things we work toward is strengthening that voice in the workplace and ensuring that there isn’t retaliation against workers that do speak up.”

Lisa Field, director of field operations at Services Employees International Union Local 888, was one of over 35 contributors to the report. Local 888, which represents public employees on the state and local level, has worked with MassCOSH to extend Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards to further protect workers.

“We work with MassCOSH in order to help us train our members to become strong advocates for workplace safety,” she said. “It’s a collaborative effort. It’s not just the workers, and it’s not just management. We just look at it as a team.”

Field said many workplace safety regulations are legislatively mandated, but it is vital to have labor management teams trained to ensure the mandates are in place and working effectively.

“We hope to build a real cultureof  safety in Massachusetts for all workers, not just for public workers,” she said. “One vision I know that I share with MassCOSH is we’re hoping we can get all the players to the table to have a huge safety council … to really collaborate.”

Several residents said the information revealed on the report should push employers to create safer working environments for their workers.

Courtney Maldonado, 34, of Hyde Park, works as a bus driver for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and said the MBTA has recently installed cameras on buses to ensure the safety of both passengers and employees. However, she said more could still be done.

“It would be nice if there was a hotline or a phone number that employees could call if they felt that they were being put in dangerous working conditions or if they felt that work was unsafe for them,” she said.

Erica Pichon, 29, of Mattapan, said the voices of employees in the workplace are one of the most important tools for the legislators and organizations to create safer working conditions.

“So many jobs rely on trust, trust of the other employees and also of employers. So for that reason, it is important that workers speak up,” she said.

Jenice Eutsay, 15, of the South End, said employers should be providing greater supervision and more mechanical inspections to ensure a safe working atmosphere.

“People are risking their lives everyday to make our lives better,” she said. “Some people need the money or don’t have an education and therefore are forced to get any job he can in order to make money. The employer should make sure that they’re putting the workers in the most danger-free situations possible.”

Stephanie Pagones contributed to the reporting of this article.


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