After a decade-long decline in injuries and deaths in the North American steel industry, there was a sharp rise in 2004, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal. Steelmakers and union officials are especially concerned about how this decline in safety may be associated with the rise in production and turnover rates.

With production up 7 percent in 2004, economists are reporting that workers are trying to meet demand by working more hours and thus increasing their chances for accidents and fatalities. Additionally, with steel companies offering senior workers early-retirement packages in hopes of cutting costs, they are trying to meet demands with a less experienced workforce.

On-the-job accidents, including production mistakes and safety incidents, cost extended-hours operations about $8.5 billion per year, an average of $354 per employee, according to Circadian Technologies’ “Shiftwork Practices 2005.” Furthermore, in companies where overtime is running high, yearly workers’ compensation costs are much higher ($686 per employee) than when overtime is low: $337 per employee. Fatigue, due to long work hours, supersedes all training and experience.

Though training, scheduling changes and screening for sleep disorders are the most effective ways to reduce accidents, very few companies report using them, says Circadian.