7. Workers Die for American Industry

The untold number of injuries, disease, and deaths caused by work hazards in America's industries is an on-going story which receives little, if any, coverage in the mass media. To highlight this story, we have selected the problems workers suffer in America's foundries. Among the few available statistics are these: 270 accidents occur daily in the iron and steel industry. Author/researcher Charles West reports that "OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) estimates that one out of every three foundry workers is injured every year, three times the injury rate for other manufacturing jobs." The mortality rate among furnacemen is 76% greater than that of the rest of the working population of their age. The industry averages 70 deaths and 70,000 injuries from accidents every year. No comprehensive statistics were kept prior to 1970 and the inception of OSHA; to date there are still no statistics on disease rate, like those caused by toxic substances (heavy-metal poisoning, crippling lung diseases like silicosis and talcosis, bronchitis, emphysema, heart disease, etc.). OSHA's charge is to protect 50 million workers in 4 million workplaces. West points out the inability of OSHA to investigate, let alone regulate and implement change. He claims that management with strong support from the defense establishment effectively renders OSHA impotent. Senate Armed Services Committee member Dewey Barlett is quoted as saying that efforts to make an industry "safer, healthier or more environmentally acceptable... cannot be placed blindly above the higher priorities of a strong economy and adequate military capability." The occupational safety and health staff of the United Auto Worker's office of social security is cited as having done the most recent study, the results of which are not publicly available. "In order to gain access to the foundries, the UAW was forced to promise the industry it wouldn't publicize its findings. The UAW will probably use its information only as a bargaining tool in its negotiations with auto manufacturers." Tens of thousands will continue to grow ill, lose sight and hearing, be mutilated, and die due to undocumented hazards of the iron and steel industry. And this is just one example of the hazards in American industry. As West concludes in his article: "Changes come hard without information." The lack of mass media coverage on a problem as widespread as worker hazards qualifies this story as one of the "best censored" stories of 1976.

SOURCE: Seven Days, February 28, 1977, p 10, "America's foundries: hell aboveground" by Charles West.