Dying at Work in California: 388 Workers Didn’t Come Home

April 28, 2017
Recently released data show 388 workers were killed on the job in California in 2015, more than one per day. This and other findings are included in a report released on Workers Memorial Day by Worksafe.

Recently released data show 388 workers were killed on the job in California in 2015, more than one per day. This and other findings are included in a report released today by Worksafe, an Oakland-based worker health and safety organization, to commemorate Workers Memorial Day 2017, an international day of remembrance for workers who have been killed and injured at work.

The report reflects data from 2015, the most recent data releases from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the California Department of Industrial Relations, and provides information on fatalities from 2015 and highlights particularly concerning workplace conditions. It also includes a partial list of workers killed in 2016 and brief profiles of several workers killed last year in California.

The report shows that the occupational fatality rate rose 10 percent from 2014 to 2015, increasing from 2.0 deaths to 2.2 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers. As in past years, California is still below the national fatality rate of 3.4 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers. Nationwide, 13 people are killed on the job each day and worker fatalities are higher than they have been in nearly a decade.

“Although California has been a leader on health and safety nationally, the sad reality is that our workers continue to die from the same workplace hazards that have been killing them for years,” says Worksafe Executive Director Doug Parker. “We are particularly troubled with how members of our immigrant communities bear the brunt of many of these hazards,” he added.

According to the report, the fatality rate among agricultural workers more than doubled in 2015, increasing from 8.2 in 2014 to 17.1 in 2015. Construction-related deaths also spiked in 2015; the fatality rate in the construction industry went up by 34 percent, increasing from 4.5 in 2014 to 6.8 in 2015. In fact, 2015 had the highest fatality rate for construction since 2005.

Both agriculture and construction have high populations of immigrant workers, and the data show that Latino workers continue to be killed in strikingly disproportionate numbers. Latino workers make up almost half (46 percent) of total fatalities, despite comprising just over one-third of the total working population. 178 Latino workers were killed at work in 2015. This is a significant increase from 2014, when 130 Latino workers died on the job. Nationwide, Latinos continue to die at work at a higher rate than non-Latinos.

These figures significantly undercount the human toll of workplace hazards. Studies indicate that two out of three workplace injuries go unreported, and fatality figures exclude virtually all deaths from occupational illness. The AFL-CIO estimates that each year, 50,000-60,000 people die from occupational disease nationwide, more than 20 times the number of fatal injuries.

The report is being launched at a Workers’ Memorial Day event in downtown Oakland on Friday April 28th at noon. The short memorial program will feature speakers from state and federal agencies, labor organizations and community groups who will share current efforts to protect workers and their families. It also includes a panel discussion on Race, Power, & Politics: Effects on Workers of Color, an interactive altar and a moment of silence to honor fallen workers.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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