Worker Fatalities Continue to Decline

I would hardly put the preliminary results from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’  National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries report, released yesterday, in the category of good news, but it does at least point to continuing improvement in the number of fatal injuries.

Coming off a modest decrease in 2011, the BLS preliminary report revealed a 7 percent decline in workers who died from work-related injuries—4,383 in 2012, compared to 4,693 in 2011. (In 2012, the fatal workplace injuries rate stood at 3.2 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, down from a rate of 3.5 per 100,000 in 2011.)

Here’s what DOL Secretary Thomas E. Perez had to say about the data:

Workers in this country have the right to return home safe and healthy at the end of a work day. Despite that right, poor safety conditions cause thousands of people each year to lose their lives at work.

I am greatly encouraged by the reduction in workplace fatalities, even in a growing economy. It is a testament to the hard work of employers, unions, health and safety professionals, and the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Mine Safety and Health Administration. Through collaborative education and outreach efforts, and effective law enforcement, these numbers indicate that we are absolutely moving in the right direction … “

SafetyPerez went on to say “we can and must do better,” particularly in areas such as oil and gas and construction—where fatalities climbed.  Fatal work injuries in oil and gas extraction industries rose 23 percent while fatal work injuries in private construction climbed 5 percent, after five consecutive years of declining counts.

In an effort to address some of these more troubling problem areas, Perez adds, OSHA has undertaken a number of outreach and educational initiatives, including a campaign to prevent falls in construction and the National Voluntary Stand Down of U.S. Onshore Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, co-sponsored by oil and gas industry employers and planned for Nov. 14.

Other findings in the report …

  • Fatal work injuries declined among non-Hispanic white workers (down 10 percent) and Hispanic or Latino workers (down 5 percent) in 2012.
  • Fatal work injuries were higher among non-Hispanic black or African-American workers and non-Hispanic Asian workers.
  • Fatal work injuries involving workers under 16 years of age nearly doubled, rising from 10 in 2011 to 19 in 2012—the highest total since 2005.
  • Work-related suicides declined 10 percent from 2011 totals, though violence accounted for about 17 percent of all fatal work injuries in 2012.
  • Transportation incidents accounted for more than two out of every five fatal work injuries in 2012.

Of course, let’s remember these are preliminary numbers and open to later adjustment. But it’s at least comforting to see them moving in the right direction.