More than 1,000 U.S. workers have died due to job-related events in the first seven months of 2015, according to new data from the U.S. Worker Fatality Database. Researchers estimate that total fatalities will likely reach 4,500 by the end of the year, which would mean that the nation’s occupational death rate experienced little, if no, improvement over previous years.
The database, which launched last year and represents the largest open-access data set of individual workplace fatalities ever collected in the U.S., also breaks down 2015 data by state. So far, Texas leads the pack, followed by California, Florida and New York. By far, most of the work-related deaths occurred within the construction industry. In addition to numbers, the database, which is based on government and media sources, puts names and faces to those lost on the job. As of Aug. 18, the database had documented 1,073 work-related deaths.
“The public has a critical need for information about the men and women who perish every day harvesting our food, building our homes, extracting our fuel and doing all the other jobs that move our economy,” said Bethany Boggess, research analyst at the Workers Defense Project in Austin, Texas, and one of the founders of the U.S. Worker Fatality Database, in a news release from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “Every one of these deaths is preventable, but without timely knowledge of who is dying on the job and why, our prevention efforts will fall short.”
Just a few of the workers who’ve died this year:
- In January, Jabar Issa, 48, a tow truck driver, died in San Marcos, California, after he was hit by a driver as he was helping a customer change a tire on the side of the road.
- In February, Aimee Bearden, 43, died in an explosion at a fireworks factory in Owens Cross Roads, Alabama.
- In March, Jason Wellons, 45, a refinery worker, died in St. Charles, Louisiana, after the hazmat suit he was wearing caused his body temperature to rise above 107 degrees. (In a related court case, his family said managers ignored co-workers’ requests for help.)
- In April, Jeremy Bradshaw, 35, was one of three utility workers killed in Clermont, Florida, after a car involved in a crash swerved off the road and hit the workers.
- In May, Kevin Benoit, 30, a Chicago Transit Authority contract worker, died after coming in contact with power lines and being electrocuted.
- In June, Landon Russell, 20, died in Beaumont, Texas, in an industrial incident involving a crane at an energy terminal in the city’s port.
- In July, Albert Gaona, 34, a farm worker, died in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, after being struck by equipment.
In releasing the new 2015 data, advocates said criminal prosecutions could help prevent future occupational deaths. They pointed to the April 2015 death of Carlos Moncayo, a 22-year-old immigrant from Ecuador, who died in New York City after the trench he was working in collapsed. Inspectors had previously warned contractors that the trench was an imminent hazard and in August, two companies and two supervisors were indicted in Moncayo’s death. Similarly — in what may be the largest fine every levied against a U.S. company for a worker’s death — Bumble Bee Foods faces a $6 million fine after Jose Melena, 62, was burned to death inside an industrial cooker.
“You can’t put a price on a human life, and no amount of money can bring back a husband, a wife, a father or a mother,” said Jessica Martinez, deputy director of National COSH, one of many groups that collects information for the database. “But seven-figure fines and indictments which can result in real prison time will get the attention of corporate executives.”
According to advocates, the U.S. Worker Fatality Database is more comprehensive and current than the federal Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries — its most recent data reflect deaths that occurred two years ago. Visit the U.S. Worker Fatality Database for more information or to contribute reports about fatal workplace injuries.
Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.
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The thing I think should be really telling (and depressing) about these statistics is not just how many people have died, but that so many of them died in the exact same way, year in and year out.
In an article on central-line infections (that I think was posted here) the author described the difference between an airplane crash and a car crash. After an airplane crash, the industry determines the root cause and makes changes to prevent that exact thing from happening again (with moderate success). After a car crash the auto industry does nothing (generally). industrial incidents that cause injury, illness, or death need to be treated like plane crashes.
It's not like we don't know that trenches collapse. And it's also not like we don't know how to prevent trench collapses. So there is no excuse for *not* preventing a trench collapse. Will it prevent a trench collapse in an earthquake? Probably not, but neither are commercial jet missile-proof.
To choose to not take life-saving actions needs to be a criminal act.