Report: Worker Safety

PRESS RELEASE: Embargoed until Wednesday April 25, 2007 at 5:00 PM


Labor Unions and Workplace Safety Advocates Call for More Stringent Worker Safety Protections, Enforcement to Reduce Workplace Injury, Illness and Death, and the Extension of OSHA Protections to Public Employees

BOSTON, MA 4/26/07 – A Roxbury bus mechanic might be alive today if his employer had paid to install proper ventilation. A Springfield construction worker might have lived to see his 43rd birthday, had his employer ensured that the building he was demolishing was properly braced. A warehouse worker in Weymouth could have gone home safe if his company had checked his forklift's brakes.

A new report released today documents the loss of 76 workers killed on the job in the Commonwealth in 2006. Many of these deaths could have been prevented had the employers instituted basic and often inexpensive safety measures.

"It's disturbing enough that so many workers continue to lose their lives on the job. But when you hear of the basic safety measures that were completely neglected, that is nothing less than tragic," said Robert J. Haynes, President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.

The report released by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupation Safety and Health (MassCOSH), and Western MassCOSH, Dying for Work in Massachusetts: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts, comes on the eve of Workers Memorial Day. Every year on April 28, workers killed and injured on the job are remembered and calls renewed for improving workplace safety. This year, it will be commemorated on the steps of the Massachusetts State House on April 26, 2007 at noon.

"This report demonstrates that the cost of cutting corners on safety is paid in human lives," said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, Executive Director of MassCOSH and a report co-author.

According to the report, while workplace deaths and injuries remain high, fines and penalties actually decreased last year. In Massachusetts during 2006, the average fine for a serious violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act was under $1,000 and the average penalty paid by an employer with OSHA violations resulting in the death of a worker was under $11,000. Alarmingly, this represented a decrease of over $3,000 from the previous year.

"It appears that some employers view fines as a cost of business," Goldstein-Gelb remarked.

The report also found that at OSHA's current rate of inspection, it will take a staggering 124 years for the agency to complete inspections of all workplaces under its jurisdiction.

The report gives many examples of deaths that could have been prevented. On January 19, 2006, Herbert Mercoulier, 42, was performing demolition operations on the 4th floor of a building when the roof, fourth floor and part of the third floor collapsed, sending him falling to his death. OSHA inspectors found that the employer, Associated Building Wreckers, had not adequately shored or braced portions of the damaged building and that the workers lacked fall protection when they were working on the roof. The company was also cited for fall and other violations after OSHA investigated another of their worksites in Chicopee.

On the morning of March 9, 2006, Hector Rivas Torres, 54, a mechanic for First Student, a bus company that services Boston Public Schools, died of carbon monoxide poisoning while starting the engines of school buses. After declining health from constant exposure to the gas, Rivas requested that First Student investigate. The investigation found that ventilation was indeed necessary, but that each installment would cost $70, which First Student refused to pay. OSHA has fined First Student for negligence in 13 health and safety standards and issued fines of $76,500. First Student's decision to disregard safety measures cost Mr. Hector Rivas his life.

One week later, on March 17, 2006, John DeTullio, 42, was unloading drywall from a forklift at Gallagher's Building Materials in South Weymouth when the forklift suddenly lurched forward, pinning him against the pile of drywall behind him and crushing him to death. OSHA inspectors found that the forklift's brakes had not been set to prevent its movement, and cited the company for safety violations including lack of safety training along with repeated failure to inspect the forklifts frequently or properly enough and to remove faulty forklifts from service. The combined failure to act for workers' safety lost John J. Gallagher's company a worker and cost DeTullio his life, far too young.

The report highlights several issues of growing concern:

  • More than 350,000 public sector workers in Massachusetts are not protected by OSHA and federal safety regulations because the Legislature hasn't adopted federal safety rules for the state and its cities and towns.
  • Employers prey upon immigrant workers, who are seen as vulnerable. Immigrant workers and day laborers suffer from poor working conditions, lack of training, employer exploitation coupled with fear of retaliation and deportation for speaking up about hazards, which all lead to workplace fatalities.
  • Employers ¬¬increase hazards with work restructuring, and then blame workers for resulting injuries.

In all sectors of the economy, companies rush to increase profits at the expense of workers' health and lives by downsizing, understaffing, overloading workers, extending hours of work, combining jobs, contracting out, not training employees, and pushing for production.

The report calls for health and safety laws and regulations on the state and federal level to be strengthened. These improvements would include standards for work zone safety, protections for public employees (House Bill 4451), protection for immigrant workers, improvements in Massachusetts Workers' Compensation, comprehensive workplace safety programs, an established collective voice of workers to uphold and benefit from these standards through unions and an executive order to be issued by Governor Patrick broadening OSHA protections to include state employees.

"Going to work shouldn't mean risking life or limb," stated Goldstein-Gelb. "After the scaffolding tragedy last spring, there was a lot of finger-pointing and little leadership. We call upon the new administration to take bold action to protect the workers of the Commonwealth."

"One preventable death is unacceptable; the 76 workplace deaths of 2006 represent not only great personal suffering for loved ones but also signify that we are not making enough progress for all workers," remarked Haynes, "Sadly, the number of these workplace deaths over the years continues to remain intolerably high. Our fight for good jobs, safe jobs and worker protections will continue until all workers are able to leave for work and return home with their lives, their limbs and their health intact."

The complete report can be viewed at or

About the Massachusetts AFL-CIO

The Massachusetts AFL-CIO is the largest umbrella labor organization in the Commonwealth, representing hundreds of thousands of working families from member unions and serves as the voice of working families in Massachusetts. Offices are located at 389 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148. For additional information, contact Public Affairs Coordinator Tim Sullivan at 617-680-2344 or visit

About the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH)

MassCOSH is a nonprofit coalition, bringing together workers, unions, community groups, and health, safety and environmental activists to organize and advocate for safe, secure jobs and healthy communities throughout eastern and central Massachusetts. Through training, technical assistance and building community/labor alliances, MassCOSH mobilizes its members and develops leaders in the movement to end unsafe work conditions. For more information, contact Membership and Communications Coordinator Khadijah Britton at 617-825-7233 x14 or visit


Tim Sullivan
Massachusetts AFL-CIO
(W) (781) 324-8230 ext. 11
(C) (617) 680-2344

Khadijah Britton
(W) (617) 825-7233 ext. 14
(C) (917) 957-1837