Posted with permission from Confined Space, a newsletter of workplace safety and labor issues.

In the unlikely event that anyone out there was thinking that workplace fatalities were fading into the past, check out the newest Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries that was released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics today. According to BLS, 5,190 fatal work injuries occurred on the job in 2016, a 7-percent increase from the 4,836 fatal injuries reported in 2015 and the third year in a row the number has increased. We’re now looking at more than 14 workers dying every day on the the job in the United States. This is the highest fatality rate since 2010.

The BLS noted that transportation incidents remained the leading cause of death in 2016,  accounting for 40 percent or 2,083 fatalities. Violence and other injuries by persons or animals increased 23 percent to become the second-most common fatal event in 2016. This is the highest homicide figure since 2010. Workplace suicides also rose to the highest level  since CFOI began reporting data in 1992.

The clear need for more resources to be invested in protecting workers contrasts with OSHA’s budget situation. OSHA has not had a budget increase since 2010, effectively a budget cut every year. According to the AFL-CIO, with fewer than 800 inspectors, federal OSHA can inspect workplaces on average only once every 159 years.


We’re now looking at more than 14 workers dying every day on the the job in the United States.


If there is any “good” news it’s that in some areas where OSHA has put special emphasis over the last several years, we are seeing a decrease in fatalities. Hispanic or Latino workers had 3 percent fewer workplace fatalities in 2016 with 879 fatalities, down from 903.

Public Employees

Other areas, where OSHA has no authority, or limited standard did not do as well. Fatalities among government workers increased 9 percent overall to 497. But those totals are deceiving, as fatalities among federal employees decreased by 9 percent while fatalities among state and local government fatalities shot up 20 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Federal OSHA does not cover state or local government employees which means that only public employees in the 26 state plan states have a right to a safe workplace , The feds do cover federal employees under a Presidential Executive Order, although no penalties are assessed.

Other items

  • Only 13 States (and the District of Columbia) saw decreases in their fatalities. Only five of 26 state plan states (full state plan as well as public employee only) saw decreases in fatalities. Alaska, Oregon, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Delaware and Rhode Island saw greater than a 50% increase in the number of fatalities, while Alaska saw the highest rate increase from 4.1 to 10.6. North Dakota, which had a particularly high rate in past years due to the booming oil and gas extraction industry, now had the sharpest decrease in fatality numbers and rates, largely due to the decline in oil and gas prices.
  • Law Enforcement did not do well. BLS reports that deaths among “protective service occupations” increased by 68 fatalities or 32 percent in 2016 to a total of 281. Police officers incurred 51 homicides in 2016, up 50 percent from 34 fatalities in 2015.
  • Asian workers incurred 160 fatal injuries, up from 114 in 2015, which was the highest percentage increase (40 percent) among any race or ethnic origin. Fifty-two — or almost 1/3 of those fatalities were the result of homicides, the highest percentage of homicide deaths in any ethnic group.
  • Older workers, 65 years or older, continue to suffer significantly more fatalities than other age groups , Their fatality rate is 9.6 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers , compared with an overall average of 3.6. These numbers are particularly worrisome considering the deterioration decent pensions and Americans’s retirement savings which will push older Americans to work longer.
  • Falls continue to be a serious problems with for roofers, carpenters, tree trimmers and pruners, and heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers. OSHA is working on a standard for tree trimmers. Although effective technology exists to prevent falls from tractor trailers and other “rolling stock,” this has been a difficult problem for OSHA to address for legal/regulatory reasons.
  • Fatalities in the mining and oil & gas extraction industry has fallen to the lowest level ever, although employment in those industries is also falling. Mining fatalities are up in 2017 so far.
  • Overdoses from the nonmedical use of drugs or alcohol while on the job increased to 217 in 2016 from 165 in 2015, a 32% increase.

Who is saying what

Peg Seminario, Health and Safety Director of the AFL-CIO said that “The increase in job fatalities in 2016 reported by BLS shows that for many groups of workers in this country work is becoming more dangerous and deadly,”  and noted that “House Republicans are now seeking big cuts for 2018. Fewer resources and less oversight will mean more injuries and workplace deaths. Workers need more safety and health protection not less. ”

Loren Sweatt, OSHA’s Acting Assistant Sectetary  said the “Amerian workers deserve better,” and called for “finding new and innovative ways of working with employers and employees to improve workplace safety and health.”

Looking forward to seeing what those “new and innovateive” ways will be. The only thing she mentioned was using “enforcement, compliance assistance, education and training, and outreach” to address fatalities.

But most of her attention went to addressing the increase in opioid-related deaths,which amount to a small number of deaths, but did see a 35% increase over last year: “As President Trump recognized by declaring opioid abuse a Nationwide Public Health Emergency, the nation’s opioid crisis is impacting Americans every day at home and, as this data demonstrates, increasingly on the job. The Department of Labor will work with public and private stakeholders to help eradicate the opioid crisis as a deadly and growing workplace issue.”

Although the President has declared his concern over opioids, he has not allocated significant new funding to address the problem — inside or outside of the workplace.

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Click here to see the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries data.