The number of deaths due to workplace trauma last year was the highest recorded since 2008, according to data released late last week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics culled from its 2015 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI).
Transportation incidents killed the most
Private industry accounted for 4,379 of the fatalities; manufacturing for 1,980; natural resources and mining for 690 and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting for 570. Transportation incidents were the biggest hazard, with 2,054 lives claimed. Slips, trips and falls killed 800 workers, contact with objects and equipment 722; workplace violence (or injuries caused by animals) 703; exposure to harmful substances or environments 424; and fires and explosions 121.
CFOI preliminary figures showed that the occupation with the most fatalities was tractor-trailer or heavy truck operator.
The construction industry last year recorded the highest number workplace fatalities since 2008 with fatalities in the private construction industry increasing 4 percent, from 899 to 927 between 2014 and 2015.
More African-American workers died on the job than in any year since 2008, and more Hispanic or Latino workers were killed at work than in any year since 2007.
Tougher regulations or deregulation?
“It’s a tragedy – and a national disgrace – that almost all of these deaths could have been prevented, using safety protocols that are well-known across the industries and workplaces where workers lost their lives,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). The group is calling for tougher regulations and strict enforcement of safety laws, which doesn’t seem likely on a federal level, if President-elect Donald Trump makes good on his campaign promise to eliminate many regulations.
“This is no time to roll back safety regulations,” said Goldstein-Gelb. “Instead, we need tough enforcement, including criminal prosecution of employers who willfully ignore safety laws. And the best practice – by far – to improve workplace safety is to empower workers to recognize and prevent occupational hazards.”
The next secretary of labor, when confirmed, will appoint a new OSHA chief to replace Dr. David Michaels, the current head off the agency. That labor secretary is likely to be Andrew Puzder, a CEO in the fast food industry. A survey of fast food workers, conducted by National COSH in March 2015 showed that 79 percent of fast food workers had suffered burns on the job, with 73 percent suffering multiple burns. One-third of fast food workers surveyed reported inappropriate treatment for their injuries.
National COSH says that during Puzder’s upcoming confirmation hearings, they hope to hear a specific plan from the nominee about ways to reduce workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
Occupational illness not included in CFOI
The annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), compiled by the BLS, includes workplace deaths from across the United States resulting from traumatic events such as falls from height, roadway incidents, workers struck by objects and equipment, and homicides. It does not include workers who die from long-term exposure to workplace hazards, such as toxic chemicals that cause fatal diseases of the lung, kidney, heart and other organs.
According to one recent estimate, more than 98,000 U.S. workers died in 2012 from long-term illnesses linked to hazardous working conditions.
National COSH maintains the U.S. Worker Fatality Database at www.nationalcosh.org. It features data on workplace deaths from 2014 and 2015, with some information not included in the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.