Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the preliminary results of the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries: 4,609 fatal work injuries were recorded in 2011, down from 4,690 in 2010 (note that the 2010 number is the revised final total, though, while the 2011 figure is preliminary). This works out to a rate of 3.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2011, vs. 3.6 per 100,000 in 2010.
BLS notes that fatal work injuries declined in the construction sector and private mining industry (which includes oil and gas extraction) and increased in private truck transportation. The total number of injuries declined for non-Hispanic white workers but rose for African-American and Hispanic/Latino workers. In 2011, the CFOI started collecting information about workers who were classified as contractors when they were fatally injured; their preliminary data show that 492 of the fatally injured workers, or about 10.7%, were classified as contractors.
What kinds of injuries killed these workers? Transportation-related incidents; violence and other injuries by persons or animals; and fatal falls, slips, or trips together accounted for nearly three-fourths of the deaths. Transportation-related incidents included vehicle-to-vehicle roadway collisions, incidents in which vehicles struck pedestrians, and non-roadway incidents like tractor rollovers.
One thing CFOI doesn’t tell us is how many people are made ill on the job, or how many receive non-fatal injuries. BLS does conduct a Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, but several studies and investigations have found it to substantially undercount work-related injuries and illnesses. For instance, in 2007 BLS reported that its survey found four million cases of occupational injuries and illnesses, while researcher J. Paul Leigh estimated that there were 8.5 million occupational injuries and 427,000 non-fatal occupational occupational injuries that same year.
The bottom line on the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries is that it shows us we still have a long way to go on occupational health and safety. Last year, 4,609 workers were killed on the job, and that’s shameful. As Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said in a statement earlier today, that works out to an average of 13 workers losing their lives every day. She responded to that statistic by saying:
“It’s clear that we must maintain our commitment to ensuring our workplaces are safer and healthier for every American. This is a challenge that must be undertaken not just by the government but by the entire country. We know how to prevent these fatalities, and all employers must take the steps necessary to keep their workers safe.
“At the Labor Department, we take these challenges very seriously. Each and every one of us is committed to doing what we can so that every worker can return home at the end of the day in the same condition he or she left. The workers of our nation deserve nothing less.”
We do know how to prevent these fatalities, but turning that knowledge into sufficient action remains a challenge.