The AFL-CIO, a coalition representing 12.5 million workers across various unions, has released its 33rd annual report, “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” uncovering troubling racial disparities in workplace safety.

The report’s findings, based on the most recent data available, underscore the urgent need for policymakers, regulatory bodies, and employers to confront the disproportionate rates of fatalities, injuries, and illnesses faced by workers of color.

According to the report, Black workers’ job fatality rates have surged to the highest levels seen in nearly 15 years. Meanwhile, Latino workers continue to endure the most significant risk of death on the job compared to any other demographic group. In 2022, 734 Black workers lost their lives while on the job, a significant increase from the 543 deaths recorded in 2003.

Similarly alarming trends were observed among Latino workers, with the number of deaths rising from 794 in 2003 to 1,248 in 2022. Shockingly, 60 percent of those killed were immigrants.


“These alarming disparities in workplace fatalities among workers of color are unacceptable, symptomatic of deeply ingrained racial inequity and the need to pay increased attention to the dangerous industries that treat workers as disposable,” remarked AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler in a statement.

The revelations are particularly stark when compared to the racial breakdown of the American workforce. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that as of 2021, White workers comprised 77 percent of the U.S. workforce, while Latino workers accounted for 18 percent, and Black employees represented 13 percent. The proportions don’t align with the rates of fatalities among workers of color.

“This report exposes an urgent crisis for workers of color and reaffirms what we’ve long known: When we talk about justice for workers, we must prioritize racial equity,” the authors emphasized.

The report identified specific hazards and industries where workers of color are most vulnerable. For Black workers, fatalities often result from transportation accidents, homicides, or exposure to harmful substances or environments. Meanwhile, Latino workers face significant risks in industries such as construction, agriculture, and manufacturing, where workplace hazards are prevalent.

Furthermore, the report highlights the systemic challenges workers of color face in accessing adequate protections and resources. Instances of employer retaliation for reporting unsafe conditions or injuries are rampant, creating a culture of fear and silence among workers.

Weak penalties and enforcement mechanisms further exacerbate these issues, failing to hold non-compliant employers accountable for endangering their employees’ lives. Despite advancements in safety regulations and enforcement, systemic issues persist, threatening the well-being of workers across various industries.

Comparing records on safety and health, the report noted that the Biden and Trump administration’s records differ drastically. The authors determined that the Biden administration’s job safety agencies have had to repair and rebuild after “four years of decimation rife with understaffing, repeal of worker safety laws, limits on public access to information and the inability to issue even the most basic of long-overdue protections.”

They concluded that the Biden administration improved transparency of information about loved ones lost on the job to honor them and to prevent the tragedies for other families, bolstered enforcement initiatives to hold accountable the employers who violate the law and put workers in danger, strengthened policies to protect vulnerable workers with the greatest risks of dying on the job and facing retaliation, and issued milestone regulations to save workers’ lives and improve their livelihoods.

The authors noted that the Biden administration recently used the first action under the amended Toxic Substances Control Act to ban current uses and imports of chrysotile asbestos, after decades of weak laws and inaction that have put the United States behind other countries;

Issued a rule to protect communities from facilities that store, use or manufacture chemicals; clarified the rights of workers to choose their own representation during inspections; issued a rule to protect mineworkers from silica exposure;

Issued a rule to require large employers to fall in line with other-sized employers on injury reporting to OSHA and anti-retaliation measures for workers who report injuries; and worked across agencies to protect immigrant workers whose employers are involved in a workplace safety and health investigation.

The authors said urgent steps are needed to address the root causes of workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses, particularly those disproportionately affecting marginalized communities. They urged policymakers, employers, and stakeholders “to prioritize racial equity to improve workplace safety and health outcomes for all workers.”

—Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire