On-The-Job Deaths Continue At Steady, Grim Pace

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dying on the job continues at a steady pace according to the latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The fatal injury rate for American workers dropped slightly in 2011 — the most recent year with reported numbers — from 3.6 to 3.5 deaths per 100,000 workers.

But 4,693 men, women and teenagers died at work. That's three more than the total number of lives lost on the job in 2010.

BLS says it's the third-lowest death toll since counting began in 1992. Worker safety groups find no comfort in the report, though. It comes as they and the Labor Department prepare to mark Workers Memorial Day on Sunday.

"These deaths were largely preventable," says Tom O'Connor, executive director of National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH), an advocacy group formed by organized labor and workers safety advocates. "Simply by following proven safety practices and complying with [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] standards, many of these more than 4,600 deaths could have been avoided."

COSH has just released its own report on workplace deaths, which focuses on specific industries and incidents.

O'Connor blames companies that "decry regulations and emphasize profits over safety."

The vast majority of deaths involve white men in private industry. Nearly 2,000 died in "transportation incidents," including traffic accidents. Close to 10 percent of the workers killed were victims of workplace homicides. Notoriously dangerous work in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting took 566 lives — 24.9 deaths for every 100,000 full-time workers. The most deaths for any single industry were in construction, with 738. That was 9.1 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers.

The BLS report now lists fatalities among contractors and that's a first, according to a story by Jim Morris from the Center for Public Integrity. O'Connor told Morris that "the total death toll is far greater than what we see from a handful of catastrophic incidents. It seems that the public just sort of accepts that as a risk of going to work."

Workers Memorial Day events include the placement of empty and well-worn work boots to symbolize the lives lost at work, groups of spouses and children holding photos of loves ones, and readings of the names of victims.

Last week, Democrats in Congress reintroduced the Protecting America's Workers Act (PAWA), a bill that seeks tougher penalties for employers when willful and egregious behavior results in workers deaths. Senate Democrats introduced a similar measure last month.

"The fact remains that penalties for harming workers are often the cost of doing business for some employers," said Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. "Congress needs to work together to increase these outdated penalties and give real teeth to the law so that workers and communities can remain safe while trying to make a living."

Senators Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Bob Casey, D-Pa., cited a recent NPR series, Buried in Grain, in announcing support for the Senate's version of PAWA.

"Whether working on a factory floor, on an oil rig, or in a grain bin, our workers and their families need to know that they will be safe and protected at the workplace," said Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

PAWA failed to gain enough support in Congress in the past in the face of industry opposition and congressional resistance to expanded government regulation.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit

Source: NPR


Comments [1]

Jim Smith

Thank you for sharing the article. No question to many on the job deaths. I have to submit commits on what we need to do to consider to advance better worker protection in the future. I understand the need for tougher penalties but that is not going to reduce these numbers at the level we should be demanding. If one spends time on analyzing these fatalities you will see regulations are in place and fines/cost spent. No question certainly not enough to compensate or penalize a corporation.

Here is some thoughts to consider. We need to advance safety professional recognition into our employer equation. You manage your finances with professionals (CFO). However, we have no requirement for coordinating the management in protecting the American worker or the public within an employer. The standard argument is small employer. The same employer groups that are having a high percentage on the job fatalities. There are so many resources for these SB. We must advance the risk assessment process within an organization which will advance the job fatality reduction process. That takes professionals advancing the risk assessments and safety management systems.

We continue the same outcry dance routine of more penalties and regulations but in the end it takes a safety professional to advance the management team in managing their risk.

My two cents!

Apr. 27 2013 12:10 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.