BLS Fatality Stats: Increase in Hispanic Fatalities Overshadows Overall Decrease

Although the overall occupational fatality rate in 2006 declined about 1 percent from the previous year's rates, 937 Latino workers died last year, up from 923 in 2005.

According to BLS, there were 5,703 fatal work injuries in the United States in 2006, down slightly from the revised total of 5,734 fatalities in 2005. The rate of fatal work injuries in 2006 was 3.9 per
100,000 workers, down from a rate of 4.0 per 100,000 in 2005.

The 937 fatal work injuries involving Latino workers in 2006 was a series high, but due to increased employment, the fatality rate for Hispanic or Latino workers was lower – 4.7 fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2006 versus 4.9 per 100,000 in 2005.

BLS stated that the Aug. 9 numbers are preliminary and will be updated in April 2008.

OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke cautioned that there was room for improvement. "We believe our initiatives are working,” he said. “However, even one fatality is one too many. To end fatalities, injuries and illnesses on the job, nothing is more effective than prevention.”

Union Remembers Cintas Worker

Unite Here International Vice President Cristina Vazquez remembered Cintas worker Eleazar Torres Gomez in her comments about the BLS statistics. "Mr. Torres Gomez and his family came to the United States in 1987 from Mexico to earn a better life. His pursuit of the American dream was tragically cut short while working at a Cintas industrial laundry in Tulsa, Okla., earlier this year. Mr. Torres Gomez was reportedly caught on a conveyor belt and dragged into a large dryer, where he was trapped for at least 20 minutes in temperatures up to 300 degrees," she stated.

She pointed out that the Torres Gomez family is not mourning alone. According to the BLS, Latinos are 18 percent more likely to die at work than the population as a whole. While Hispanics make up roughly 12 percent of
the workforce, Latino workers accounted for 16 percent of on the job fatalities.

"America's workplaces should be safer for all. As hard-working people, whether we were born here or came from elsewhere for a better future, we demand that employers stop this carnage. Irresponsible companies like Cintas should not be allowed to force employees to labor in dangerous conditions," said Vazquez.

Industry Breakdowns

Despite the overall decline, fatalities in the coal-mining industry more than doubled in 2006, which is a result of the Sago Mine disaster as well as multiple-fatality coal mining incidents.

A total of 47 coal mining fatalities were recorded in 2006, up from 22 in 2005, due in part to four multiple fatality incidents in coal mining in 2006, claiming a total of 21 workers. The fatality rate for coal mining jumped 84 percent in 2006 to 49.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers, up from 26.8 in 2005.

Aircraft–related fatalities also experienced a sharp increase in 2006 after showing a decline in 2005. The 215 fatalities involving aircraft in 2006 represented a 44 percent increase over the 149 in 2005. Overall, there were 44 multiple-fatality aircraft incidents claiming the lives of a total of 137 workers in 2006, including one (the August 2006 Comair crash) that resulted in 23 fatalities. The annual number of aircraft fatalities tends to be volatile and has ranged from a high of 426 fatalities in 1994 to a low of 149 in 2005.

However, despite highway incidents remaining one of the most frequent types of fatal work-related events, accounting for nearly one out of four fatal work injuries, the number of highway incidents fell 8 percent in 2006. The 1,329 fatal highway incidents in 2006 was the lowest annual total since 1993, BLS said.

In the construction industry, there were a total of 1,226 fatal work injuries, the most of any industry sector. The total for construction represented an increase of 3 percent over the 2005 total. Fatalities among specialty trade contractors rose 6 percent (from 677 fatalities in 2005 to 721 in 2006), due primarily to higher numbers of fatal work injuries among building finishing contractors and roofing contractors. Fatalities in building construction and in heavy and civil engineering construction decreased in 2006.

Rate Decreases for Young Workers

Fatalities among workers under 25 years of age had a significant decrease of about 9 percent in 2006. Fatality rates were also lower, especially for workers 16 to 17 years of age, whose fatality rates declined 40 percent.

Fatal work injuries among workers 55 years of age or older were slightly higher in 2006, but the fatality rate for this group of workers was lower, reflecting the growing number of older workers in the workforce.

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