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Report: Alarming spike in Mass. on-the-job worker deaths in 2021

The ‘Dying for Work’ report says there’s been a 38% uptick in workplace deaths, with a rise in suicides and fatal drug overdoses.

A new report highlights a concerning increase in Massachusetts workplace fatalities last year. 

There were 62 workplace deaths reported in 2021, which is a 38% increase from 2020, which saw 45. Though many workers were not working on location in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the researchers behind the report call the year-over-year uptick “an alarming trend.” Thirty percent of those killed at work were in the construction industry.

Of the Massachusetts workers killed onsite in 2021, 46 were men and six were women. Their average age was 48 years. The youngest worker killed was 19 years old, and the oldest was 77.

“Still, this rate does not reflect the true number of workers’ lives lost in 2021 as it does not include those who died as a result of exposure to COVID-19 on the job, a toll we may never truly know,” the report states.

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The Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health(MassCOSH) and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO teamed up on the report, dubbed Dying for Work: Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces.

According to the report, 72 workers died on the job in 2019, and 77 died in 2018. The year prior, 80 Massachusetts workers died while at their job. 

The number of suicides while at work increased from 5 to 13 between 2020 and 2021. Nearly double that number, 25, died due to on-the-job overdose fatalities last year, the report says. In 2020, that number was 18.

Nearly 20 of the 2021 workplace deaths were due to transportation incidents. Other reasons for workplace fatalities include contact with equipment, falls, slips and trips, violence by people or animals, chemical exposure, fire and explosion, and occupational illness — though that reason was exclusive to 10 firefighters.

Courtesy/MassCOSH

“Work continues to kill and maim workers in alarming numbers and the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact workers with devastating results in 2021,” MassCOSH said in a press release. “This report has been compiled to recognize the workers and their families and to highlight these tolls. The saddest aspect of the loss of lives and limbs is that work-related injuries and illnesses are preventable.”

The report says there were nearly 70,000 incidents of non-fatal on-the-job injuries and illnesses in Massachusetts in 2020, which is the most recent year with available data. Of these cases, 45,000 caused workers to take time off or experience job restrictions. 

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The Mass. AFL-CIO is the umbrella organization for more than 750 local unions, joint boards, and district councils representing workers across the state. MassCOSH is a nonprofit that is comprised of various unions and health and legal professionals with a mission to help workers earn a fair wage in dignified conditions.

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