Column: Why Are US Workplaces More Dangerous Than European Ones?

On average, the American workplace is more dangerous than the Latvian, Czech, Slovakian, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish, Polish, Hungarian, or Estonian workplace. Considering that the United States has a much higher gross domestic product per capita than all of these countries, this seems unlikely. Yet, it’s true. Despite the United States’ immense power on the global stage, its workers are much more likely to die at work than a worker in economically poorer European countries.

The data speaks for itself. In 1999, a World Health Organization (WHO) report revealed that the US had a workplace fatality rate per 100,000 workers of 5.3. In 2014, a report by OSHA revealed that the US had a workplace fatality rate per 100,000 workers of 3.4. This reduction is an improvement, but it is not cause for celebration when you compare it to the situation in Europe.

In the excommunist countries of Europe, the workplace fatality rate from 1999 to 2014 has decreased dramatically. This is perhaps unsurprising considering the economic gains these countries have reaped from the fall of communism. However, what is perhaps surprising is how the workplace fatality rates in many of these countries is now about the same or lower—much, much lower in some cases—than it is in the US.

According to a UK Health and Safety Executive report from 2014 and the WHO report from 1999, the fatality rate in Croatia has gone from 11.4 to 0.75, the Czech Republic has gone from 4.3 to 1.5, Estonia has gone from 11.6 to 0.75, Hungary has gone from 11.4 to 1.75, and so on and so forth. At 3.4, the United States workplace fatality rate in 2014 is most similar to Bulgaria, Romania, and Lithuania—three of the poorest economies in Europe.

The safety of the American workplace should be comparable to that of the United Kingdom or Sweden, not Bulgaria or Romania, and many Americans are worried the Supreme Court ruling on unions could make things even worse.

However, even before this ruling became a contentious issue, the United States’ record on workplace safety was not the best. The truth is that there are many issues in the US affecting its ability to keep workplaces safe. The OSHA budget has been cut, but compared with the UK—whose workplace fatality rate is nine times lower than the United States’—the OSHA budget was never high to begin with.

Read the full column here.



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