Behind the Latest Worker Fatality Figures

Earlier today, NPR’s Morning Edition dedicated a segment to the latest figure on workplace deaths: 5,488 workers died from fatal work injuries last year. That’s the lowest number since the government started keeping statistics in 1992.

Libby Lewis interviewed David Michaels about the drop; he noted that some of the reduction is due to improvements (like tougher penalties for drivers in work zones, which keeps highway workers safer), but that a lot of it’s due to a shift in the kind of work being done. Many high-hazard jobs have moved overseas, and the economic slowdown has meant fewer construction jobs.

Speaking of those construction jobs, Lewis highlights an alarming trend: an increase in the number of falling deaths, despite the overall decrease in fatalities. Last year, 833 workers fell to their deaths. We’ve pointed out here before that U.S. workplaces desperately need better fall protection, and this statistic gives us another reason to say it again.

Fewer U.S. workplace deaths is good news for American workers – but last year, 5,488 workers’ families got the worst news about their loved ones. We still have a long way to go on workplace safety.

Comments

  1. #1 Eric Frumin
    August 22, 2008

    see also the NY Times version:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/21/us/21osha.html?scp=1&sq=worker%20fatalities&st=cse

    which says in part:
    Still, the federal report showed some alarming results. The number of fatal falls rose to 835, a 39 percent increase since 1992. Workplace homicides also jumped by 13 percent from 2006. Deaths among police officers rose 30 percent, to 143, compared with 110 in 2006.

    Labor Department officials cited increased outreach to employers by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as a major reason for the declines.

    Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a statement that the new data showed that the Bush administration’s programs to protect workers’ safety were working and noted that this was the lowest number of fatalities in recorded OSHA history.

    But Eric Frumin, health and safety coordinator for Change to Win, a federation of seven unions, said Ms. Chao’s take was misleading because the sharp drop in workplace transportation deaths, one of the causes of the overall drop in fatalities, largely fell under the jurisdiction of state and federal transportation agencies, not OSHA.

    Moreover, Mr. Frumin pointed to a series of fatal construction accidents in Las Vegas and a death at an industrial laundry plant in Tulsa, all of which occurred in 2007, as evidence that OSHA was still not adequately enforcing its own regulations.

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