Recently, a building in Bangladesh housing five garment factories made worldwide headlines when it collapsed. According to the New York Times, the number of workers who died in the Bangladesh collapse now exceeds 1,100 and the collapse was the worst in industrial history. Following the disaster, there were immediate calls to improve working conditions, and ABC reported that some companies in the U.S. were facing protests intended to encourage improved worker safety regulations.
Our Jefferson City work accident attorneys know that there are more worker protection laws in the United States than there are in Bangladesh where the factory collapse took place. Yet, even with the increased regulations in the United States, it is not necessarily a given that workplaces are all that much safer than those in Bangladesh.
Workers in the U.S. at Risk
When comparing working conditions from the United States to Bangladesh, there are some safety rules and regulations in both places. In the U.S., however, there is a longer history of worker safety laws and there are more protections available to workers.
The U.S. labor movement has been around for a long time and has been effective at winning battles for worker safety as far back as 1911 when a devastating fire called the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire occurred. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire resulted in 146 workers dying because they were locked in a factory when fire broke out. It also resulted in the rise of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, which was instrumental in fighting for the rights of sweatshop workers.
In 1970, workers won a major victory in the U.S. with the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to enforce safety standards. With the protections in place and an agency dedicated to enforcing them, it seems easy to say that conditions are much better in the U.S. for workers than in Bangladesh or in other parts of the world.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the whole story. The AFL-CIO’s 2013 report entitled “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect paints a different picture of the level of protection that workers in the U.S. enjoy. According to the report:
- OSHA inspectors have to oversee more than 8 million workplaces. Unfortunately, there are only 837 federal inspectors. This means that each workplace could be inspected about once every 131 years… hardly enough to enforce safety rules.
- OSHA penalties are limited. Criminal charges are filed only when willful violations lead to employee death and prosecutions have happened only 84 times since 1970. Fines are also small, with the median amount paid after settlement by an employer after a worker dies at work equal to just $5,715 and the average fine for a citation just $2,156.
The worker safety laws exist, therefore, but are not necessarily being enforced and there is not necessarily a lot of incentive for employers to obey them. The sad reality of the lack of effectiveness of worker protections can be seen in the tragic explosion of the West Texas fertilizer plant that recently occurred, causing 14 deaths and 200 injuries. The fertilizer plant had not been inspected since 1985.
If you’ve been hurt at work, contact our Jefferson City personal injury lawyers by calling toll-free at 1-800-877-4030.