In 2021, Dangerous Jobs Killed 62 Workers in Massachusetts

As business returns to a more normal pace post-pandemic, an unfortunate rise in workplace injuries and death has followed. According to a 21-page report issued earlier this year from the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) entitled, Dying for Work in Massachusetts: Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces, there were 62 workers in Massachusetts who lost their life while in the workplace during 2021. The report noted that this was an increase from the 45 deaths which occurred while on the job in 2020.

“The Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed over fifty years ago,” said Steven A. Tolman, President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “…One work-related death is too many. Today, and every day, we stand united with the families whose loved ones have suffered a tragic loss. We come together in a call for action to protect workers and renew the fight for stronger and safer worker protections. We must always advocate for continued enforcement of OSHA protections and criminal and civil penalties for companies that violate job safety laws. We will always fight for stronger anti-retaliation protections for workers…”

Construction Jobs Continue to be the Most Dangerous

As in previous years, the report notes that the highest number of fatal injuries were in the construction industry. In 2021, there were 15 deaths in this sector accounting for 30% of all workplace deaths last year. The Transportation and Warehousing sectors were the second- most dangerous industry to work in with eight workers killed while on the job. Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services (represented by a Landscaping worker, Forklift operator, Lawyer and two Landscapers) was the third most dangerous with seven industry-related deaths.

Transportation incidents were leading cause of deaths

The report found Transportation incidents, which include motor vehicle crashes and workers struck by vehicles or equipment, were the leading cause of death from injuries. In 2021, 19 workers were killed by these types of incidents, contributing to 37% of all deaths from injuries. Other incidents include 14 worker deaths from falls, slips, and trips, with an additional nine deaths from contact with objects or equipment.

The report also found a remarkable increase in the number of immigrant worker deaths, those most likely to work in the most dangerous, low-wage jobs. 16 immigrant workers died from work-related causes; their deaths accounted for 31% of all occupational fatalities from injury in 2021. In 2019 and 2020, immigrants accounted for just 13% of those who died due to dangerous work.

Average age of workers fatally injured in Massachusetts in 2021 was 48 years old

In addition to the above statistics, the official report also noted the following statistics:

  • Of the Massachusetts workers fatality injured in 2021, 46 were men and 6 were women. Their average age was 48 years. The youngest worker killed was just 19 years old; the oldest was 77 years old. In 2020, the most recent year for which data sets are available, there were more than 69,400 recordable incidents of non-fatal recordable occupational injuries and illnesses in Massachusetts.
  • Fatal overdoses and suicides on the job claimed a troubling 38 lives in 2021, a 52% increase from 2020. What may have caused the increase and how they can be stopped is discussed in depth.
  • In Massachusetts, there are 38 OSHA inspectors, roughly one inspector for every 91,210 workers. At the rate that OSHA conducted inspections in 2021, it would take 169 years for OSHA to pay a single visit to each workplace in the state.
  • The average proposed penalty during an OSHA inspection that found safety violations was $9,956.35. Appeals from businesses brought down the average final penalty to $5,348.36, a 46.3% reduction. For many organizations, absorbing the costs of creating dangerous working conditions is just the cost of doing business.
  • The report states that occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 has made many thousands of workers in Massachusetts sick and likely resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of fatalities. Because the Commonwealth failed to track the industries and occupations of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, it is impossible to name or count the workers who died from work-related COVID-19. However, from the data that is available for Massachusetts, it clearly shows that those that worked outside of the home got sick and died at higher rates than those that could stay home. It also shows that Black and Latinx workers were the hardest hit. They were overrepresented in the most dangerous jobs, risked contracting the virus without health insurance, got sick and died at higher rates, stayed home with no pay or benefits, and saw their work hours cut.
  • The report also focuses on what can be done to save lives. MassCOSH is calling for all construction sites to institute an Internal Traffic Control Plan (ITCP). An ITCP is a project-specific plan that includes safe backing procedures and areas, consideration of blind spots, the use of spotters to direct vehicles and workers on foot, combined with training and traffic controls like signs, cones, barrels, and barriers, to prevent transportation-related fatalities. To end fatal falls, sites must institute plans that manage, and control fall hazards and use Personal Fall Arrest Systems that consist of an anchorage, connectors, a body belt or body harness and may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline, or suitable combinations of these. As construction in Massachusetts returns to post-pandemic levels, employers must not cut corners. They must ensure that basic health and safety protections like ITCPs and fall protection are provided on construction sites to prevent unnecessary and tragic loss of life.

For those interested in accessing the report, it can be found be downloaded from the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health website (MassCOSH)

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