Workplace Fatalities Rise Slightly in 2003

A total of 5,559 fatal work injuries were recorded in the U.S. in 2003, a small increase from the revised total of 5,534 fatal work injuries reported for 2002, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Despite the increase, fatal work injuries for both 2003 and 2002 were the lowest ever recorded by the fatality census, which has been conducted each year since 1992. The rate at which fatal work injuries occurred in 2003 was 4.0 fatalities per 100,000 workers, unchanged from the rate reported for 2002.

"American workers remain safer than they were just a few years ago. The BLS data released today show that the fatal injury rate held steady at 4.0 per 100,000 workers identical to 2002 and the lowest rate recorded since the fatality census began in 1992," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw.

For the past two years, OSHA has placed an emphasis on reducing injuries to Hispanic workers, and those efforts have paid off. Fatal work injuries among Hispanic or Latino workers were lower for the second consecutive year, although Hispanic workers continued to record the highest rate of fatal injuries among the racial/ethnic groups reported (4.5 fatal work injuries per 100,000 Hispanic workers). Fatal work injuries among foreign-born Hispanic workers declined for the first time ever in the fatality census, although fatalities among native-born Hispanic workers rose slightly in 2003.

"We are encouraged by our continued progress in reducing fatalities among Hispanic workers," Henshaw noted, adding, "There were fewer deaths from falls and harmful environments while deaths as a result of assaults and violent acts rose by 61."

Fatal work injuries for all workers resulting from highway incidents, falls, and electrocutions were all lower in 2003 than in 2002, while fatal injuries involving homicides, fires and explosions, and being struck by objects increased.

Fatal highway incidents were down in 2003 for the second consecutive year, but continued to account for the highest number of fatal work injuries. The 1,350 fatal highway incidents recorded in 2003 accounted for about one out of every four fatal work injuries. Incidents involving workers struck by vehicles or mobile equipment also were down in 2003, but the number of fatal work injuries involving nonhighway transportation incidents (such as those that might occur on a farm or industrial premises) and aircraft-related incidents were both higher.

The number of workplace homicides was higher in 2003 the first increase since 2000. Despite the higher total, the 631 workplace homicides recorded in 2003 represented a 42 percent decline from the high of 1,080 workplace homicides recorded in 1994. Workplace suicides also were higher in 2003.

Fatal work injuries involving falls one of the leading causes of death for workers declined in 2003. The 691 fatal falls recorded in 2003 was the lowest total since 1996. The number of electrocutions also was lower. The 246 electrocutions in 2003 represented a decline of 15 percent from the 2002 total.

The 198 fatal work injuries resulting from fires and explosions in 2003 was 20 percent higher than the total recorded in 2002. Fatalities from being struck by objects also were higher in 2003, led by increases in worker deaths due to being struck by a falling or flying object.

"We have said many times before that even one workplace fatality is one too many, and we will continue to do everything we can to make sure workers are safe through strong, fair and effective enforcement; outreach, education and compliance assistance; and partnerships and cooperative programs," said Henshaw.

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