ND, Montana high in job fatalitiesThe most current research done by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations shows that Montana and North Dakota respectively filled the worst positions nationally for worker safety. The findings were released Wednesday morning.
By: Sean M. Soehren, The Dickinson Press
The most current research done by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations shows that Montana and North Dakota respectively filled the worst positions nationally for worker safety.
The findings were released Wednesday morning.
Local officials say the deficit is caused by more dangerous types of work in the area, lack of funding to enforce safety regulations and possibly an influx of less knowledgeable workers.
Montana ranked the highest in job fatalities to worker ratio in 2009, with North Dakota tying Louisiana for the second highest. The lowest fatality rates were reported in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Delaware.
Montana’s ratio for fatalities to workers (10.8 per 100,000) is more than triple the national average of 3.3 per 100,000, according to the report. North Dakota’s rate was more than double the national average at 7.2.
Tom Deutsher, North Dakota area director of Occupational Safety and Health Administration, based in Bismarck, was sad to report this is not a new trend.
“We can never really get our arms around the entire issue,” he said, adding that different industries and occupations have been the focus of safety improvement over the years. “No matter what we do, we end up with 10, 15 or 20 fatalities.”
North Dakota reported 25 workplace fatalities in 2009 and Montana reported 50, according to the report.
Industrial hygienist in the safety and health department of AFL-CIO Bill Kojola said the report helps pinpoint the key issues and hazards that are problematic, which is the first step to improve the situation.
“Once you have identified the industries and hazards, you can find ways to reduce the risks,” he said.
North Dakota and Montana’s highest percentage of fatalities related to transportation incidents, which comprised nearly half of each states’ death count.
Billings County Emergency Manager Pat Rummel said this may be caused by the increase of traffic from the recent oil boom.
“When you bring in that number of people and that kind of activity, there will be an increase in accidents,” he said.
Kojola said that agriculture, construction and oilfield occupations are more prevalent in the area as opposed to other states, which could be a reason for the higher numbers.
“It is more risky to work in construction or agriculture than banking or real estate,” he said.
“We haven’t felt the recession here like other states,” he said. “We have more workers coming here, who are possibly less trained.”
Another problem has arisen with safety regulation enforcement, Kojola said.
“There is a huge concern that OSHA, as an agency, is woefully underfunded for their responsibilities to protect the American worker,” he said. “This is true in all states.”
Five OSHA inspectors cover North and South Dakota, Deutscher said. According to the report, with the number of inspectors employed in each state at OSHA, it would take 100 years to inspect each work site in Montana once and 141 years to inspect North Dakota. Kojola said those numbers were consistent with the rest of the nation.
Deutscher said the small staff and heavy workload have caused enforcement to move from proactively improving safety in work zones to reactively dealing with accidents. He added that most of the responsibility of safe practice falls on the employer.
“The employers by law have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace,” he said. “Many employers hold it with great weight and do a good job of following standards, but others don’t do such a good job and willfully ignore standards.”
Kojola added that safety programs have been the most effective when employers and workers collaborate to reduce hazards. Safety Coordinator at Baranko Brothers Inc., of Dickinson, Bill O’Connor agreed.
“If something seems unsafe, everybody has the right and responsibility to stop a job and make it safe,” he said.
Montana OSHA area director was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
To read the AFL-CIO report, visit www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/memorial/