The federal agency that was established to keep workers safe has decided, for the first time in its 45-year history, that it should know who exactly is getting hurt at work. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has historically focused on tracking work-related deaths, in 2015 began systematically requiring employers “to report any severe work-related injury—defined as a hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye—within 24 hours.” We now have 10,388 new workplace horror stories (7,636 hospitalizations and 2,644 amputations). Here are a few examples.
Just before Thanksgiving, a gravedigger at St. Charles/Resurrection Cemeteries in Farmingdale, New York, was nearly buried alive when the gravesite imploded, primarily because his employer had not installed proper safeguards and failed to monitor the workplace. The OSHA spokesperson quipped afterwards about the “early grave” the worker had dodged, though perhaps the scariest aspect of the ordeal is the unknown number of potential graves that are dug on the cheap, without proper reinforcement.
Another grisly set of “accidents” claimed four fingers, two weeks apart in February at the Primex plastics plant in Norwood, Georgia: “Both workers had their middle and ring fingers amputated as they removed material jammed in shearing machines that cut plastic.” The gruesome amputations bookended a series of “35 safety and health citations” over the past decade at the company, ranging from excessive noise exposures to inadequate safety gear for workers exposed to machine burns. The company website, meanwhile, boasts that Primex’s “state-of-the-art facilities are constantly being updated to insure that the highest quality standards are met.”
Some jobs, particularly in social services, come with seemingly “softer” hazards—those not as easily measured in mechanical terms.* In January, OSHA initiated an investigation following a complaint about violent incidents at an adolescent residential care facility in Birmingham, leaving the nursing staff with “bites, abrasions, contusions and stab wounds.” An OSHA investigation later showed workers being placed at unnecessary risk of assault, reflecting an often overlooked aspect of workplace safety: managing the tensions and dangers entailed in the labor of care.
In low-wage service sectors, the rampant disregard for life can invade even familiar recreational spaces. At a Brownsville, Texas, bowling alley in March, Vidal Garcia, a young part-time mechanic, suffered death by strangulation “when his shirt collar tangled in a faulty pinsetter, strangling him as the machine twisted the collar tighter.” The OSHA inspection revealed that the death had been preventable, as the machinery lacked the necessary safeguards to protect against getting ensnared.