Friday, April 26, 2013
Asbestos Major Workplace Hazard, Report Highlights on Workers’ Memorial Day

BOSTON/State House – There were 32 fatal on-the-job accidents in Massachusetts last year and an estimated 300 plus deaths due to occupational diseases - over 90 due to asbestos-related illness - according to a report released this week.

Launched on the steps of the State House Thursday, Dying for Work in Massachusetts: Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces is an annual joint effort by Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) and Massachusetts AFL-CIO.

In a month that saw on-duty MIT police officer Sean Collier shot to death, the event also marked the 25th annual Workers’ Memorial Day for those who have lost their lives at workplaces across the Bay State.
Executive Director of MassCOSH, and co-author of the report Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, said the event was held to, “shine a spotlight on the toll of unsafe working conditions.”

“Too often there are basic safety measures that employers are simply ignoring…putting profit over human beings’ lives, and we know that we deserve better,” she added.

Ms. Gelb commented on what she sees as the “meteoric growth” in temp workers, day laborers, and other working conditions where employers are “trying to separate themselves from being responsible to the safety and well-being of their workers.”

Geoffrey Almeida, a boat building and repair worker on the North Shore died in 2011 following a battle with cancer related to asbestos.

His widow, Catherine Devitt, told the crowd gathered at the State House in a quiet voice, “I’m not a public speaker, I would not choose to do this, but Geoffrey would have had me come, and he would have loved that his name was being spoken at this place, on this podium.”

She said Geoffrey’s nickname was “Mr. Be Careful,” because he saw danger everywhere, and always took every precaution available to him and his workers.

“His death was terrible. He did not die suddenly like so many…we lost him over a year and a half. He went from a vibrant 59 year old to a 60 year old man who could not live; he weighed very little, he looked like he was 90,” said Devitt through tears.

Though it’s regulated by a number of federal and state agencies asbestos is still legal in Massachusetts, and there are no laws or regulations requiring its removal from buildings according to the MassDEP website.

Ms. Goldstein-Gelb criticized the effectiveness of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the body responsible for overseeing safety in private sector workplaces.

She says that Dying for Work shows, “it would take OSHA 140 years to inspect every Massachusetts workplace within their jurisdiction, and what that says is that they’re completely under-resourced; there is not enough inspectors, there is not enough funding.”

She also criticized the lack of substantial penalties for employers in violation of OSHA regulations with the report stating that the average fine against employers in Massachusetts was $9,590.

Some of the key findings in the report for 2012 in the report state:

•There were an estimated 1,800 workers in Massachusetts with newly diagnosed with cancers caused by workplace exposures, and an estimated 50,000 more were seriously injured.

•While the number of fatalities in 2012 was lower than in previous years, similar declines in fatalities have occurred before only to be followed by increases in subsequent years.

•The average age of death was 50 years old in an age range from 19-73 years old.

•53% of those who were 50 or older, with 28% between the ages of 40-49, and 25% over 60.

•James Ivanov, a 19 year old student, was the youngest person to lose his life in 2012. It was reported in news media that he fell from the roof of a house in West Springfield while working construction.

•The construction industry was one of the most dangerous industries for workers with six fatalities in
2012; four of those working at sea lost their lives; and seven firefighters died from work-related cancer and heart disease.

•Seven workplace deaths are included in the report up until March 12 this year, the same figure recorded on the same date last year, but Sean Collier’s death on April 18 brings the total deaths in 2013 to eight.

In a bill sponsored by Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), MassCOSH is now pushing for occupational safety and health standards to be applied to state employees, like their private sector counterparts.

Another bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) would see the compensation for burial allowance of those who lose their lives in work-related instances doubled from $4,000 to $8,000.