Tom Ricker: Welcome to N.D., the most dangerous state to work

BISMARCK -- As of 2011, North Dakota became the most dangerous state in the country to work, holding the dubious honor of being No. 1 in deaths on the job.

BISMARCK -- As of 2011, North Dakota became the most dangerous state in the country to work, holding the dubious honor of being No. 1 in deaths on the job.

According to the most recent statistics, fatalities in North Dakota workplaces are more than three times the national average.

With a total of eight federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors for the entire state, it would take OSHA nearly 93 years to inspect every work site.

And considering that oil and gas industry fatalities are some seven times higher than the rate for all industries, we shouldn't be surprised that the oil boom has come with a hefty price-tag of an increase in death on the job.

Last year, right here in North Dakota, at least 34 of our hardworking sisters and brothers left for work one day and didn't come home to their families. That's 34 people whose deaths could have been prevented if their employers followed job safety requirements and put needed safeguards and protections in place.


Every day, people are suffering on the job due to workplace injuries from combustible dust explosions or exposure to well-known hazards such as asbestos and benzene. Then there are those who watch our children and take care of our homes, but who too often are mistreated by uncaring employers.

These occurrences are all too common, leaving workers powerless and affecting thousands of families.

Worse still are debilitating lung conditions such as silicosis, caused from exposure to silica dust.

Despite the fact we know how to prevent this and can easily implement straightforward protections, a new OSHA standard to protect workers from this harmful chemical is being blocked by industry opponents and continues to languish.

This is the reality in the United States today. And it's our job to prevent these deaths and injuries by fighting for stronger standards, more oversight and stronger policies in North Dakota's workplaces.

But these efforts to make the workplace safer have come under widespread attack by corporations that want to curb workers' rights to speak out.

With false claims from business groups and those on the right that regulations kill jobs, enforcement has been weakened, budgets slashed and fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters here in North Dakota continue to be at risk.

We know the truth. We know that when working people in North Dakota fight back and voice our concerns for health and safety by demanding adequate regulations and policies, lives will be saved and everyone's jobs will be safer.


Think about North Dakota's teachers, nurses, firefighters and police officers: They can't do their jobs if their budgets are at risk.

We also must take the time to remember our Latino and immigrant sisters and brothers, who disproportionately hold riskier jobs and continue to be at an increased risk of job fatalities. In 2010, the job fatality rate for Latino workers was 3.9 per 100,000 workers, compared with the overall rate of 3.5 per 100,000. Some 729 Latino workers lost their lives on the job.

Most of these deaths -- 500 out of 729 -- were among immigrant workers.

Employers continue to take advantage of immigrant workers, many of whom lack documents or are unable to speak up because of limited English proficiency or because they remain unaware of their rights as individuals working in the United States.

As we work to raise health and safety standards for all workers, comprehensive immigration reform remains a priority -- because it is only through ensuring their equal rights that raising the standard of worker protections even is a possibility.

As we remember our fallen brothers and sisters in North Dakota, we call on our elected officials to do more and do better. All workers should be able to go to work and return home safe and sound to their loved ones, and no worker should have to sacrifice life, limbs or health to earn an honest day's pay.

Ricker is president of the North Dakota AFL-CIO.

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