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Are American Workers in Danger? OSHA Reports Dramatic Increase in Fatal Occupational Injuries

Dec. 19, 2017
The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of 2016 Fatal Occupational Injuries reports there were 5,190 workplace fatalities in 2016, a seven percent increase from 2015, and notes that opioid-related deaths are on the rise in the workplace.

Fatal workplace injuries showed a dramatic uptick in 2016, rising by 7 percent over the number of workplace fatalities tallied in 2015. The fatal injury rate also increased from 3.4 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2015 to 3.6 in 2016. 

More workers lost their lives in transportation incidents than any other event in 2016, accounting for about one out of every four fatal injuries. Workplace violence injuries increased by 23 percent, making it the second-most common cause of workplace fatality. The Dec. 19 report also shows the number of overdoses on the job increased by 32 percent in 2016, and the number of drug-related fatalities has increased by at least 25 percent annually since 2012. 

“Today’s occupational fatality data show a tragic trend with the third consecutive increase in worker fatalities in 2016 – the highest since 2008. America’s workers deserve better,” says Loren Sweatt, deputy assistant secretary for OSHA. “[OSHA] is committed to finding new and innovative ways of working with employers and employees to improve workplace safety and health. OSHA will work to address these trends through enforcement, compliance assistance, education and training and outreach.” In 2008, 5,214 workers lost their lives.

Sweatt added that the nation’s opioid crisis has invaded the workplace, and “is impacting Americans every day at home and, as this data demonstrates, increasingly on the job. The Department of Labor will work with public and private stakeholders to help eradicate the opioid crisis as a deadly and growing workplace issue.” 

Peg Seminario, director of occupational safety and health for the AFL-CIO, says the 2016 BLS Job Fatality Report reveals disturbing trends.

"The increase in job fatalities in 2016 reported by BLS shows that for many groups of workers in this country work is becoming more dangerous and deadly," says Seminario."The 5,190 workplace deaths from injuries means that 14 workers were killed on the job a day, the highest number since 2008 and the highest rate since 2010."

She adds that in industries where OSHA and MSHA focus resources and attention, fatality rates declined or remained stable, but that job fatalities are increasing in the growing sectors of the economy, including healthcare and food services, which receive little attention and oversight from workplace safety agencies. The same is true for groups of workers that lack OSHA protection, Seminario adds, including state and local government employees and many

"Federal OSHA now has fewer than 800 inspectors and can inspect workplaces on average only once every 159 years," says Seminario, who points out that OSHA’s budget has declined since 2010 and been frozen for years.

"House Republicans are now seeking big cuts for 2018," she adds. "Fewer resources and less oversight will mean more injuries and workplace deaths. Workers need more safety and health protection, not less."

The National Safety Council (NSC) released a statement indicating it "is very disheartened to see the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing a seven percent rise in workplace deaths since 2015. Fatal work injuries reached 5,190 in 2016 – the third consecutive annual increase and the first time in nearly a decade that the number has surpassed 5,000. Employers cannot ignore this data, particularly since many different demographics are affected."

Of note, said NSC, were these numbers:

· Overdoses from the non-medical use of drugs or alcohol while on the job increased from 165 in 2015 to 217 in 2016, a 32 percent increase.
· Deaths among workers aged 55 or older totaled 1,848 – a 9.9 percent increase.
· Deaths among black or African-American, non-Hispanics increased 18.6 percent, totaling 587.
· Deaths among Asian, non-Hispanic workers increased 40.4 percent, totaling 160 deaths.
· Fall, slip and trip deaths increased 6 percent, totaling 849 deaths.
· Transportation incidents remained the most common fatal event, totaling 2,083 deaths.
· Unintentional workplace deaths increased 5 percent, totaling 4,399 deaths.
· Homicides increased 19.9 percent now totaling 500 deaths.

"All employers need to take a systematic approach to ensure the safety of all of their workers," said the statement from NSC. "This includes having policies and training in place to address the major causes of fatalities as well as emerging issues such as prescription opioid misuse and fatigue. Leadership should set the tone from the top and engage all workers in safety, continually looking to identify and mitigate workplace safety hazards and measuring safety performance using leading indicators to ensure continuous improvement."

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