The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) and American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) recently released the 2015 edition of their annual report, “Dying for Work in Massachusetts.” MassCOSH and the AFL-CIO chose to release the report on Workers Memorial Day, April 28, a national day of observance for victims of fatal workplace accidents.
Fatal Workplace Accidents in Massachusetts
“Dying for Work in Massachusetts” (Dying for Work) recognizes individuals who died in job-related accidents over the prior fifteen months. It also discusses the causes of workplace fatalities, and offers suggestions for workplace safety reform. While the report names 62 workers and one service member who lost their lives between January 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015, it notes that hundreds more Massachusetts residents died during this time period from occupational diseases. There are no exact figures for these losses as, sadly, they are not tracked or reported. Many victims’ families fail to seek compensation for their losses because they simply do not realize that they may have a claim.
The victims named in the report range in age from a 21-year-old snow removal worker in Boston to a 76-year-old crossing guard in West Springfield. Fatal occupations in 2014 and 2015 included, among others:
- Commercial truck driver
- Fire fighter
- Police officer
- Taxi driver
- Tree worker
In an article accompanying the release of Dying to Work, The Herald News provides more information on the accidents that took these victims lives. The article serves a sobering reminder that individuals in many lines of work face serious risks every single day.
Causes of Recent Work-Related Fatalities
Vehicle accidents continue to be the number one cause of work-related fatalities. Out of the 49 deaths in 2014, 17 involved transportation incidents. Ten deaths resulted from slips, trips and falls. All together, Dying to Work lists the primary causes as:
- Transportation incidents, including collisions and pedestrians hit by moving vehicles
- Slips, trips and falls, the majority of which included falling from height
- Occupational illnesses among firefighters
- Contact with objects, including branches, industrial and farm machinery, and heavy equipment
- Violence in the form of homicide
- Fires and explosions
- Other – attributable to a skydiving instructor who died in a skydiving accident
Combating Preventable Workplace Fatalities
As MassCOSH notes on its website, almost all of these deaths were avoidable. While many employers take appropriate measures to protect their workers, with Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) fines for fatal accidents averaging out at just $12,900, some companies may find little incentive to bear the expense of enhancing workplace safety. As a result, MassCOSH’s Executive Director has called for the organization to “urgently  step up enforcement to deter employers from putting workers’ lives at risk.” The Dying for Work report recommends:
- Expanded efforts and increased oversight at the federal level to enforce employers’ obligations under OSHA
- More proactive measures at the state level to mandate safeguards and hold employers responsible for their subcontractors and temporary workers
- Increased focus on proper staffing levels, improved worksite safety training, and union involvement with employers and contractors
All of these would be important steps toward reducing the number of unnecessary workplace fatalities. However, there is already an important tool available to victims’ families: holding companies financially responsible for their actions.
Seeking Compensation for Workplace Deaths
Companies that fail to provide proper training, equipment, and oversight can be held liable for their misdeeds. While workers’ compensation is a “no-fault” system in Massachusetts, employers can face additional liability under OSHA, and subcontractors, manufacturers, and other entities that put lives at risk can be held liable through claims for personal injuries and wrongful death. If you have lost a loved one due to a workplace accident, it is critical for yourself and others that you take action to enforce the responsible company’s legal obligations and protect your legal rights. Companies that face lawsuits and expensive workers’ compensation claims are more likely to take action to prevent reoccurrences.
Contact Boston Attorney John J. Sheehan to Learn More
While filing for compensation will not bring back your loved one, it can help you cope with your loss while also serving as a deterrent to future ignorance, negligence, and misconduct. If you have recently lost someone close to you in a work-related incident, we encourage you to contact us right away. Attorney John J. Sheehan and the other attorneys at our firm have decades of experience helping injury victims and their families fight for just compensation.