Workplace safety is an issue that is ignored too often. Now, labor advocates are working hard to generate more awareness around this serious threat to factory workers and those who work on construction sites.
In 2011, 4,609 Americans were killed in a workplace accident. That same year, 17 died as a result of terrorism. These numbers show the significant risk around working in hazardous conditions. They also show how much more news coverage terrorist attacks get compared to workplace hazard fatalities.
This media emphasis alters public perceptions: Americans get a distorted idea of the risks they confront. They tend to over-react to the dangers from terrorism and to significantly underestimate the common dangers at the workplace.
A recent example comes from the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, where three people were fatally wounded. In that same week, an explosion in the town of West, Texas, left 14 people dead. The media coverage was centered on the Boston incident. There was far less coverage of the more deadly incident in Texas. Although both events were extremely tragic, public awareness of workplace safety took the back burner compared to the terrorist attacks.
Understandably, the nation wants to focus on finding out what happened in the tragedy in Boston, and what we can glean from the bombing to help prevent any future terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Still, the investigation in West, Texas is also alarming. The fertilizer plant was home to many explosive chemicals. Regulators failed to recognize the danger inside the plant housing these chemicals. In fact, the emergency response plan put in place by the company and filed with the Environmental Protection Agency claimed—falsely—that there was NO risk of fire or explosions in that plant. The plant had not received a visit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985.
Lax regulation and public inattention to workplace safety suggest that our priorities are misplaced. If the West, Texas plant was deemed safe before causing 14 deaths, what other workplaces need to be examined with a more skeptical eye?
As Oregon construction accident attorneys, we know that horrible injuries occur all too often at a job site or workplace that has been called “completely safe.” Deadly accidents occur at construction sites that have been declared “free of all significant safety hazards.”
Either those words don’t mean what we’ve always thought we mean, or it’s time to readjust our attitudes about workplace safety in our state.