Eighteen West Virginians never returned home from their work shift last year, and advocates for workers’ rights say oversight rollbacks and funding cuts are letting too many companies off the hook for workplace safety violations.
According to the AFL-CIO, since 2019, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — the agency tasked with enforcing federal workplace safety laws — began reducing inspections involving significant cases and health hazards.
Josh Sword, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, said mining accidents, explosions, fires and construction collapses continue to pose serious risks for workers.
“Coal miners, loggers, first responders, corrections workers, delivery personnel, and others that, for some reason, lost their life on the job last year,” Sword outlined. “It varies as to what happened to these 18 individuals.”
Research shows rural workers are also at higher risk for work-related injuries due to the types of industries located in such regions, and the fact they frequently face barriers accessing health care.
Sword pointed to recent legislation like House Bill 3270, which would cap the amount of money employees can receive in lawsuits involving workplace injuries. He argued it would be as a step backward, and noted state lawmakers have continued to push for looser safety regulations.
“Speaking specifically about here in West Virginia, it wasn’t that long ago that the Legislature made their top priority to roll back some coal mine safety standards that had been established after a catastrophe in which coal miners lost their lives,” Sword pointed out.