Fatal work injuries in the U.S. rose by two percent in 2018, to a total of 5,250, according to data released today by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It is the fourth time in the past five years that fatal occupational injuries increased.

The BLS fatality data comes on the heels of the department’s annual injuries and illnesses report that showed a stagnation of nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2018. It was the first time since 2012 that the incidence rate did not decrease.

The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) says the numbers show the need for employers to be more active in adopting voluntary national consensus standards and implementing safety and health management systems.

“With the innovative tools available to today’s employers nationwide, it’s concerning that we’re continuing to see higher numbers of worker fatalities,” said ASSP President Diana Stegall, CSP, CFPS, ARM, SMS, CPCU. “Most occupational incidents are preventable given today’s technologies and proven safety and health strategies.”

Voluntary consensus standards promote best practices and prevent worker injuries, illnesses and fatalities – especially valuable during this time of low activity in regulatory development at the federal level. ASSP is the secretariat for many standards committees in the United States and worldwide, forming expert groups and ensuring standards are developed and revised in accordance with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

While regulatory entities like OSHA set workplace safety standards mandated by law, voluntary consensus standards are those guidelines that safety-minded organizations choose to implement because of their merit. Consensus standards reflect diverse viewpoints and represent state-of-the-art practices and technologies while addressing gaps where no regulatory standard exists in today’s rapidly changing environment.

“Voluntary national consensus standards can transform safety programs from compliance-based cost centers to corporate sustainability initiatives that save lives and positively impact the organization’s bottom line,” Stegall said.

ASSP said improvement in workplace safety should also be anchored in safety and health management systems such as the newly revised ANSI/ASSP Z10.0-2019 standard. Z10 is a blueprint for any company to develop and administer a safety and health management system. It establishes an operational foundation by ensuring that critical processes are integrated. Customized elements are based on the organization’s characteristics such as hazard exposures, risk levels, industry type and business processes.