U.S. workplace fatalities on the rise, unions warn

Union members, retirees and a local American Legion color guard gather in the Lebanon Cemetery in Apple Valley for the Dakota County Labor Assembly’s Workers Memorial Day ceremony.

As working people around the world paused last weekend to remember those killed or injured on the job, the largest U.S. labor federation released a new report documenting an alarming uptick in workplace fatalities.

Nationally, 5,190 American workers died on the job in 2016, up from 4,836 deaths the previous year. Overall, the national job fatality rate increased to 3.6 per 100,000 workers, from 3.4 in 2015.

“This is officially a national crisis, and it’s only getting worse,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

The AFL-CIO issued its report, titled “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” the week of Workers Memorial Day, observed by working people across the world April 28.

Locally, members of the Building and Construction Trades unions held a ceremony Friday at the Workers Memorial Garden on the State Capitol grounds. In an annual tradition, organizers rang a bell as union officers draped black wreaths on crosses bearing the names of tradespeople who died as a result of workplace injury or illness in the past year.


The Dakota County Labor Assembly held its observance in the Lebanon Cemetery in Apple Valley. Some 20 people gathered Saturday at the cemetery’s Monument to Fallen Workers for a ceremony that featured the Apple Valley American Legion’s color guard, performances of poetry and music, and remarks by Farmington teacher and pastor Rick Yonker.

Minnesota, according to the AFL-CIO report, had the 31st highest rate of workplace deaths in 2016. Ninety-two Minnesota workers died as a result of on-the-job injuries, a rate of 3.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, up from 2.7 in 2015.

“This year’s report is yet another reminder of the dangers facing working people every single day,” Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy said. “Minnesotans deserve better and should be leading the nation in workplace safety. We have a right to a safe workplace and a voice on the job.

“What’s more, we deserve leaders in St. Paul and Washington who will stand up for those rights. It’s time for change, and working people are joining together to secure the economic rights and dignity that we’ve earned.”

The report used data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to compile a ranking of the most dangerous places for working people. States with the highest workplace fatality rates, according to the report, are Wyoming (12.3 per 100,000 workers), Alaska (10.6), Montana (7.9), South Dakota (7.5) and North Dakota (7.0).

The report also showed that the construction, transportation and agriculture industries remain among the most dangerous. In 2016, 991 construction workers were killed—the highest total of any sector.

Another estimated 50,000 to 60,000 died from occupational diseases, meaning approximately 150 workers died on the job each day from preventable, hazardous workplace conditions.

“We deserve to walk out the front door in the morning knowing we’ll return home safe and healthy after a full day’s work,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “It’s a travesty that working people continue to lose their lives to corporate greed. The selfish and reckless decisions being made in boardrooms and in Washington are killing the very people who built this country.”

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