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Midnight Rider camera assistant Sarah Jones was just one of the more than 50,000 U.S. workers who died last year due to occupational injuries and illnesses, according to a report from the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health.
Jones’ death is listed as one of seven case studies in the report “Preventable Deaths 2014,” which argues that all of these fatalities could have been prevented, combining data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on fatal workplace injuries with protections from peer-reviewed data on fatalities resulting from workplace illnesses.
The report notes that while the BLS cites only 5,657 workplace deaths from acute traumatic events in 2007, UC Davis economist J. Paul Leigh found that more than 53,000 deaths occurred that year from diseases and other conditions that can be directly linked to workplace exposure.
Leigh also estimates the overall cost of acute and long-term deaths at $51.49 billion, including medical care, lost wages and productivity and other costs. Non-fatal illnesses and injuries cost the economy an additional $198 billion a year.
The report also includes specific strategies to reduce workplace hazards in areas identified as the leading causes of deaths on the job: transportation incidents (responsible for 41 percent of fatalities), violence (17 percent), contact with objects and equipment (16 percent); falls, slips and trips (15 percent); exposure to harmful substances and environments (7 percent); and fires and explosions (3 percent).
Strategies for preventing hazards in these areas include incorporating safety devices and barriers between workers and hazardous equipment as well as modernizing these safeguards. The report also advocates for protection programs and training.
“Given the present state of information about effective health and safety practices, the problem is not that we don’t know how to make workplaces safer. The problem is that employers are not meeting their responsibilities, government is not able to enforce requirements and workers are not always empowered to demand implementation of programs,” the report states. “The failure to implement proven safe workplace practices has less to do with cost, feasibility or the availability of proper equipment and more to do with the imbalance of power in the workplace.”
“No one should have to risk their life simply to earn a living,” National COSH deputy director Jessica Martinez said in a statement. “Many of the injuries and illnesses that are killing American workers can be prevented. We know the safety systems, equipment and training that can stop people from dying on the job, and it’s absolutely urgent that we take action to protect workers and their families.”
Midnight Rider hairstylist Joyce Gilliard, who was injured by the train that killed Jones, is set to speak about the report on a conference call with reporters scheduled for 2 p.m. ET Wednesday.
“After what I saw and lived through, I want to advocate for safety and prevent any other tragedies or injuries in the workplace,” Gilliard said in a statement.
While Jones’ death is the only entertainment industry fatality included as one of the report’s seven case studies, according to BLS, seven workers died in the motion picture and sound recording industries in 2012.
The report is being released ahead of Workers’ Memorial Week, which remembers those who were killed on the job.
Jones’ death is currently being investigated by local authorities in Wayne County, Ga., as well as OSHA and the National Transportation Safety Board and has served as a wake-up call for safety reform.
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