Troubling news in BLS report on worker fatalities

On the job fatalities in 2014 rose to 4,679, an increase of 2 percent over the 4,585 fatal work injuries in 2013, according to a preliminary report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Drilling down to the industry and occupation, type of incident, and worker characteristics reveal some troubling trends that are noteworthy for employers:

  • Several industries are experiencing higher rates of occupational fatalities. Mining (17 percent), law enforcement (17 percent) and agriculture (14 percent) – experienced double-digit increases, while manufacturing deaths were up by nine percent and construction fatalities increased by six percent.
  • While coal mining recorded smaller numbers of fatal work injuries, the number of fatal work injury cases in oil and gas extraction industries was a staggering 27 percent higher, rising to 142 in 2014 from 112 in 2013. A downturn in an industry can have a serious effect on safety as employees are worried about losing their jobs, employers try to do more with less, and training programs suffer.
  • Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting recorded the highest fatal injury rate of any industry sector at 24.9 fatal work injuries per 100,000 FTE workers, Fatalities among farming, fishing, and forestry occupations rose 9 percent to 253. The increase was led by fatalities involving agricultural workers (up 12 percent to 143) and fatalities involving logging workers (up 31 percent to 77).
  • More older workers are dying on the job. Fatal occupational injuries for workers 55 and older increased nine percent to 1,621 and are the highest they’ve ever been. Some safety professionals speculate this is a result of inadequate training and false assumptions about the older workers’ knowledge of hazards and how to compensate for declining physical abilities.
  • Falls, slips and trips increased 10 percent to 793 from 724. This was driven largely by an increase in falls to a lower level to 647 from 595.
  • Increased awareness and educational efforts were probably a factor in the good news that fatal work injuries among Hispanic or Latino workers were lower in 2014. However, fatal work injuries were higher among non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black or African-American and non-Hispanic Asian workers.
  • Deaths among contract workers were 6% higher and these workers were most often contracted by firms in the private construction industry that suffers from a worker shortage. Most were construction laborers, suggesting a need for more training and supervision.
  • Women incurred 13 percent more fatal work injuries, but accounted for only eight percent of all fatal occupational injuries. As more women enter the workforce in industrial-type jobs in higher-risk industries, they may need more training since they often do not have the same experience as their male counterparts.
  • Overall, transportation incidents accounted for 40 percent of fatal workplace injuries. Within this category, roadway incidents constituted 57 percent of the fatal work injury total.
  • Transportation and material moving occupations accounted for the largest share (28 percent) of fatal occupational injuries. Fatal work injuries in this group rose 3 percent to 1,289, the highest total since 2008. Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers accounted for nearly 2 out of every 3 fatal injuries in this group.

The data is preliminary; a final report is expected this coming spring. In the past five years, the number of fatalities in the final report increased by an average of 173 cases over the preliminary count. If this pattern holds, the total number of workplace deaths in 2014 could be the highest in five years.

Employer takeaway: While the total numbers may seem low, one workplace fatality is devastating for any employer. This information can help employers understand who is most at risk.

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Author | Speaker | Certified Risk Manager | Certified Work Comp Advisor

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