Typically, periods of economic recovery bring about an increase in injuries and fatalities, as businesses add to their employment ranks to meet rising demand.
Fortunately, that wasn't the case last year. The overall fatality rate for U.S. workers dropped to 3.2 per 100,000 full-time-equivalent workers in 2012, down from 3.5 in 2011, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But not all of the news is positive.
"As construction picks up, we're seeing a higher fatality rate [in that sector]," OSHA administrator David Michaels said during a keynote address at the 2013 National VPPPA Conference in Nashville.
Parsing through the BLS data, Michaels noted that the fatality rate in the construction sector rose from 9.1 per 100,000 FTE workers in 2011 to 9.5 in 2012.
Workplace deaths in private-sector construction jumped from 738 fatalities in 2011 to 775 fatalities in 2012, a 5 percent uptick.
"That's a problem, and we need to address it," Michaels said.
In oil and gas extraction, where firms are relying heavily on temporary and contract workers to cash in on the shale-gas boom, fatalities were up 23 percent in 2012.
There were 138 deaths, a record high for the sector.
In an effort to reverse the trend, Michaels noted that the agency has coordinated a number of regional safety stand-downs in the oil and gas sector.
A national safety stand-down, co-sponsored by oil and gas employers, is planned for Nov. 14.
"We are working very closely with the upstream onshore oil and gas industry," Michaels said.
'Gruesome Stories' Involving Temps
The use of temporary workers in oil and gas extraction highlights a larger trend throughout U.S. industry.
The U.S. economy has added 860,000 temporary jobs in the last four years, according to data cited by Michaels.
He noted that temporary workers are more likely to get hurt on the job, because employers fail to give them adequate safety training.
As a result, there have been "a number of really gruesome stories" involving temporary employees, Michaels said.
In August 2012, a 21-year-old temporary laborer at a Bacardi Bottling Corp. facility in Jacksonville, Fla., was crushed to death by a palletizer machine. It was his first day on the job.
"The foreman gave him a broom and told him to clean under the palletizer, where there's a big sign that says, 'Danger, Do Not Enter,'" Michaels explained.
"So he went in there. He wasn't going to say no; he was told to do it.
"His first day on the job was his last day on earth. And we have story after story like that."
High Injury Rates in Health Care
OSHA has been increasingly focused on the plight of health care workers, who are vulnerable to musculoskeletal disorders, needlestick injuries, chemical exposures and other hazards.
"It's often not recognized, but health care workers have an injury and illness rate higher than workers in manufacturing or construction," Michaels said.
"In fact, the largest group of workers injured every year on the job in the United States is health care workers."
For nursing aides, orderlies and attendants – who frequently have to lift and reposition patients – sprains, strains and soft-tissues injuries are common.
In 2010, the incidence rate of work-related musculoskeletal disorders for these occupations was 249 per 10,000 workers. The average rate for all workers was 34.
Among OSHA's efforts to reduce injury rates in the health care field, OSHA in July announced a campaign aiming to raise awareness of the hazards likely to cause musculoskeletal disorders among health care workers responsible for patient care.
Michaels also pointed to OSHA's new web page dedicated to safety in the health care field, and noted that the agency is working with the VPPPA to help hospital chains join its Voluntary Protection Program.
"A number of hospitals have expressed interest in joining VPP, and others are just learning from what the VPP hospitals are doing," Michaels said.