By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – North Dakota, once again, topped national charts to become the deadliest state in which to work in America, five years running.
The 2017 edition of “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” compiled by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization, a national trade union center and the largest federation of unions in America, reported that for the fifth year in a row North Dakota had the most fatalities of workers while on the job, nearly four times the national rate.
The leading spot comes with a 28 percent increase from the preceding year, 2014. Forty-seven people died while on the job in North Dakota in 2015, and 43 of the cases were investigated by Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA, according to the report. The number of fatalities is numerically lower than other states, but is reflective of the ratio of workers to residents.
North Dakota had a total of 437,072 employees in the state in 2015, with 32,140 establishments.
A total of four deaths were the result of assault and violent acts, 28 stemmed from transportation accidents, three came from fires and explosions, and seven deaths from contact with objects and equipment, according to the report.
In 2015, 4,386 workers were killed on the job within the United States, which equates to 3.4 per 100,000 workers. An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 died for occupational diseases, 150 workers died each day from hazardous working conditions, and approximately up to 11.1 million people were injured while on the job.
In North Dakota, 12.5 per 100,000 workers were injured on the job, according to the report. Wyoming took second spot for 12 per 100,000 workers and Montana third place, with 7.4 per 100,000 workers killed.
The lowest state fatality rate belongs to Rhode Island with 1.2 per 100,000 workers killed on the job in 2015.
The fatality rate for 2015 is the not highest yet, which reported 65 workers killed in 2012, and 56 workers killed in 2013.
More than 570,000 workers’ lives have been saved since the passing of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which promised workers the right to a safe job in America.
“The Obama Administration had a strong track record on worker safety and health, strengthening enforcement, issuing key safety and health standards, and improving anti-retaliation protections and other rights for workers,” the AFL-CIO report stated.
“With the election of President Trump, the political landscape has shifted dramatically, and many of these gains are threatened. President Trump has moved aggressively on his deregulatory agenda, repealing and delaying worker safety and other rules and proposing deep cuts in the budget, and the elimination of worker safety and health training and other programs.”
An average penalty for serious violations of $2,723 was levied in 2015 in North Dakota, according to the report. The national median penalty fatality rate was $2,087, according to OSHA statistics.
The increased rate of deaths on the job is attributed primarily to the oil and gas industry, where Latino workers are the hardest hit across the nation. Since 2009, 220 Latino workers have died performing oil and gas work. In 2012, 11 out of the 12 Latino workers who died in North Dakota were immigrant workers, according to the report.
Up until 2009, there were no Latino or Hispanic worker fatalities in the state, according to the report. Since then, however, 27 Latinos have been killed in North Dakota. A total of 25 foreign-born workers were killed in North Dakota since 2010, with an addition of four more in 2003.
“Many oil and gas workers die from traumatic injuries from being struck by or against tools or equipment, caught in-between equipment, falls, electric shock, and burns or scalds,” the report stated. “Deaths from acute chemical exposure near oil tanks often are undercounted.”
In February 2016, OSHA co-published the “Health and Safety Risks for Workers Involved in Manual Tank gauging and Sampling at Oil and Gas Extraction Sites” to inform employers and workers about the dangers that exist. Many workers along oil extraction sites are exposed to chemical inhalation injuries and benzene – a known carcinogen – exposure.
Silica dust exposure has also been identified as a major health hazard in hydraulic frakking operations, according to the report.
In 2015, North Dakota had one worker fatality who was involved in metal and nonmetal mining. A total of 304 workplace safety and health citations were issued in 2016, according to the report.