CHICAGO, Sept. 6

Safety in American workplaces "has seriously deteriorated" during the Reagan administration, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, according to a report by a research group released here today.

The privately financed study charges that government, labor and management have failed to sustain safety gains of the 1970s and that the public has become "numbed to the drumbeat of death and disfigurement."

The report, titled "The Rising Wave," was produced by the National Safe Workplace Institute, a group formed by Joseph A. Kinney of Chicago after his brother was killed in a scaffold accident last year.

It recommends a series of get-tough measures, including sentencing safety violators to jail, increasing civil fines five-fold and barring companies with poor safety records from receiving federal contracts.

The report said the federal government has never sent anyone to jail for violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, and in one recent year the average fine for a violation resulting in a death or hospitalization of more than four workers was only $284.

"The 1980s have been grim for the men and women who form the blue-collar ranks of our society," the report said. "In the first half of this decade, 5,790 high-risk workers died {who} would still be alive if the fatality trends in place in the 1970s had continued."

Fatality rates for workers in high-risk construction, factory and mining jobs dropped an average of 2.2 percent a year in the decade following the 1970 passage of the occupational safety act, the report said. Fatalities continued to drop in the 1980s, but at a rate of 0.7 percent.

"The long-term trends are still on the decrease." said OSHA spokesman Terry Mikelson. "Of course, the rate of change would slow as you get closer to zero. No one says the rates are adequate. Too many people die and too many are injured."

Under law, the agency "doesn't cite {companies} for fatalities or injuries," he added. "We issue citations for violations of standards."

According to figures gathered by the National Safety Council, about 7,500 Americans die each year in job-related incidents and their deaths go largely unnoticed. By contrast, about 120 die in airline accidents, 20 from acts of international terrorism and 508 from cocaine overdose, the report said.

The report said "inadequate government oversight and the lack of incentives for employers to provide safe work environments" are to blame for many job-related accidents.

It criticized OSHA, the federal agency created by the 1970 act, for devoting too much time to record-keeping violations, paying too little attention to safety inspections and bending to industry pressure when drawing up standards.

OSHA spokesman Mikelson said the agency "encourages interest and debate" on occupational safety issues. But he called much of the report's analysis "improper and unfair."

"To suggest OSHA has been lackluster in enforcement is to suggest its professionals, many of whom have been with the agency since it began, are not doing their jobs," he said. "That simply isn't true."

OSHA was regarded as "a nit-picker" in the late 1970s, said Mikelson, a political appointee. He said the Reagan administration's goal has been to turn it into "a more comprehensive agency. We've done that. At the same time OSHA has continued to do the same amount of safety inspections as before."