New study tallies cost of occupational fatalities

The title is long, as befitting a study spanning a decades’ worth of statistical data and conducted with the resources of multiple government agencies: The Economic Burden of Occupational Fatal Injuries to Civilian Workers in the United States Based on the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 1992-2002.

Despite its lengthy name, the document recently released by the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a relatively simple goal; to quantify the economic cost of workplace deaths. During the time period covered by the study, that total figure was $53 billion.

While acknowledging the personal effects that occupational fatalities take on individuals and families, the study’s authors focus their attention on the economic burden caused by these premature deaths.

Based on statistics from a joint state-federal program that records and manages data on fatal occupational injuries, the study found that from 1992 to 2002, 64,333 workers died in the U.S. from injuries sustained while working, with California taking the biggest economic hit ($5.4 billion) from that death toll, and Vermont the smallest ($95 million).

The data revealed some predictable patterns (more males than females are killed on the job, by a wide margin), and some race-based differences (starting in 1997, total societal costs for the deaths of white workers declined, while no comparable trend was found for minority workers). 35 to 44-year-olds were the likeliest to become victims of fatal occupational injuries, followed by those in the 25 to 34-year-old age group, then by 45 to 54-year-olds.

Over the course of the decade, transportation accidents racked up the highest societal costs ($23 billion). Assaults/violent acts were next at $9.4 billion, followed by “contact with objects and equipment” ($7.9 billion). Fires/explosions accounted for $1.8 billion in costs.

The financial consequences of occupational fatalities were calculated by other categories as well, including: event or exposure (transportation ranked first), source of injury (vehicles topped the list), and occupation division (operators, fabricators and laborers incurred the highest costs).

With the exception of one category, the societal costs caused by workplace deaths were highest from 2000 to 2002.

“These findings inform national efforts to reduce this severe toll on our nation’s workers, institutions, communities, and the nation itself,” said Dr. John Howard, Director of NIOSH, in the study’s foreword.

“Researchers and concerned parties within the occupational and public health professions, academics, organizations focusing on workplace safety, labor unions, and the business community have all proven to be willing and avid users of this data and have used this research to continue their efforts, in concert with continuing NIOSH research efforts, to reduce the great toll that fatal occupational injuries impose on our workers, workplaces, and nation.”

The study is available at: www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2011-130/pdfs/afinal.pdf.