Preliminary results from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries released Aug. 22 show a reduction in the number of fatal work injuries in 2012 compared with 2011. Last year, 4,383 workers died from work-related injuries, down from a final count of 4,693 fatal work injuries in 2011.
The rate of fatal workplace injuries in 2012 was 3.2 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, down from a rate of 3.5 per 100,000 in 2011. The numbers could be better, according to the secretary of labor.
“Workers in this country have the right to return home safe and healthy at the end of a work day,” said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “Despite that right, poor safety conditions cause thousands of people each year to lose their lives at work.
He said he is “greatly encouraged” by the reduction in workplace fatalities, even in a growing economy, calling it “a testament to the hard work of employers, unions, health and safety professionals and the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Mine Safety and Health Administration.”
He credited collaborative education and outreach efforts and effective law enforcement with the decline in workplace fatalities, saying “these numbers indicate that we are absolutely moving in the right direction.”
Perez added that to him, “These aren’t just numbers and data – they are fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, who will never come home again.”
Tom O'Connor, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Health and Safety, agreed that the decline in workplace fatalities was encouraging, but noted that the numbers are not falling fast enough and do not account for deaths related to occupational disease, a number estimated to be 10 times that of workplace fatalities.
O'Connor said he is troubled by the following:
- Workers increasingly are being killed on the job in the rapidly growing energy sector, with fatalities in the private mining industry up 14 percent, in the oil and gas extraction industry up 23 percent, and in the coal mining industry up 9 percent.
- Approximately 17 percent of workers killed on the job last year died as a result of workplace violence. While several states – including Washington, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois – have issued rules protecting workers from violence on the job, federal OSHA has failed to issue a standard to prevent workplace violence.
- Far too many young workers are dying on the job; fatal work injuries involving workers under 16 years of age nearly doubled, rising from 10 in 2011 to 19 in 2012 – the highest total since 2005. Nearly three-quarters of these young workers were employed in the agricultural industry.
Perez agreed, saying that job gains in oil and gas and construction have come with more fatalities, and called those fatalities unacceptable. In response, OSHA has undertaken a number of outreach and educational initiatives, including a campaign to prevent falls in construction and the National Voluntary Stand Down of U.S. Onshore Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, co-sponsored by oil and gas industry employers and planned for Nov. 14.
“Employers must take job hazards seriously and live up to their legal and moral obligation to send their workers home safe every single day,” said Perez. “The Labor Department is committed to preventing these needless deaths, and we will continue to engage with employers to make sure that these fatality numbers go down further. No worker should lose their life for a paycheck.”