The Coronavirus Edition of the 'Dirty Dozen'

The pandemic exposed more flaws in U.S. workplace safety.

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The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health has released the 2020 Dirty Dozen.

The annual list includes employers who expose workers and communities to unnecessary risks. This year, COSH offers a special coronavirus edition, which opened the door for repeat offender Amazon to fall off the list (but remain a dishonorable mention). 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed flaws in U.S. workplace safety and has made it more difficult to reign in the spread of the disease. 

According to COSH, part of the problem is that more than 27 million Americans have no health insurance, 33.6 million have no paid sick leave, and more than 21 million work insecure jobs in the gig economy.

U.S. workplace deaths rose from 2017 to 2018 to 5,250 fatalities, about 100 more than in 2017. 

Even though fatal accidents are rising, the number of OSHA inspections is dropping. Since 2014, the number of inspections dropped by 10.5%. According to COSH, OSHA has the same amount of inspectors as 2017, but still, only 875 inspectors cover about 9 million U.S. workplaces.

The good news is that the price of a worker's life went up this year. The median fine imposed on employers by OSHA following a workplace fatality is $7,761, up about $261 from last year. 

Fewer manufacturers made this year's Dirty Dozen, though a few food operations made dishonorable mention. Here is the 2020 Dirty Dozen: Coronavirus Edition:

  1. American Hospital Association: According to COSH, the American Hospital Association is fighting against coronavirus protections for health care workers. 
  2. Chipotle: Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the restaurant chain still violates sick leave policies.
  3. Eulen America: Months after OSHA fines, workers for the firm, which provides cabin cleaning, baggage handling, and other services for airlines, still exposed workers to infectious disease risk of blood-borne pathogens and other hazards.
  4. Fieldale Farms: The company bills itself as "one of the largest independent poultry producers in the world." On January 15, 2020, a sanitation worker fell into a scalder he was cleaning, broke his neck and died. Workers have also suffered severe burns, lacerations and amputations as a result of preventable workplace injuries.
  5. Hard Rock Cafe: On October 12, 2019, a building under construction in downtown New Orleans collapsed, killing three construction workers. The future site of a Hard Rock Cafe hotel, it is currently owned by 1031 Canal Development, with Citadel Building as the general construction contractor. What's even more tragic is that construction worker Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma had notified supervisors of safety concerns before the collapse. Then, two days after the accident, he was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and deported.
  6. Lincoln Recycling Services: On January 2, 2020, a 61-year old worker was crushed to death in a preventable accident.
  7. National Restaurant Association: Lobbied against paid sick leave for millions of workers.
  8. Sea Watch International: The company ignored warnings and declined safety training even after worker deaths. 
  9. SGL Constructors: Five workers died during a massive highway project in Florida.
  10. Tennessee Valley Authority/Jacobs Engineering: 41 workers are dead and 400 are sick after a bungled clean-up of toxic coal ash.
  11. Trader Joe's: One fatality as the company fights its workforce and stores stay open despite confirmed COVID-19 exposures.
  12. Victoria's Secret/L Brands/Voyant Beauty: For a "culture of misogyny" at the fashion firm and a supplier that tolerates harassment and fails to prevent against COVID-19.

Dishonorable Mention:

  • Amazon: Injuries and deaths due to breakneck pace of next-day delivery had it on the Dirty Dozen in 2018 and 2019. This year, at least one death has been attributed to COVID-19.
  • Smithfield Foods: The worst COVID-19 hot spot in the nation at its Sioux Falls, S.D., plant, with more than 700 confirmed cases. At least one worker has died.
  • Tyson Foods: Company responds slowly to COVID-19; three dead in a Camilla, Ga., poultry plant.

To compile the Dirty Dozen, National COSH solicits information from its network of health and safety activists about companies that put workers and communities at risk. Criteria for inclusion include workers at risk during the current public health crisis, the severity of injuries; exposure to unnecessary and preventable risk; repeat citations by relevant state and federal authorities; and activity by workers to improve their health and safety conditions.

Cosh releases its annual report to coincide with Workers' Memorial Week, from April 24 through May 1. The hope is to remember workers who have been injured, suffered illnesses, or lost their lives at work.

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