The week before Christmas, 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its annual report on fatal work injuries for 2016. According to the BLS, there were 5,190 workplace fatalities in 2016, a seven percent increase over 2015 and, sadly, the highest level over the previous 10-year period. Fatal work injuries also rose from 3.4 per 100,000 (full-time) workers in 2015 to 3.6 in 2016.
Causing 40 percent of worker deaths (2,083), transportation accidents were the leading cause of 2016 workplace fatalities, just like they were in 2015. Violence on the job came in as the second most prevalent cause of workplace deaths (866 – up 23 percent from 2015).
The third most common workplace fatality was from injuries due to slips, trips, or falls — 849, a six percent rise over ‘15. Fatal slips, trips and falls have consistently finished in the top five for the past decade and have experienced an overall increase every year since 2011.
Another alarming trend is not all that surprising now that the war on opioids is in full bloom. The number of overdoses on the job increased by 32 percent in 2016, and the number of drug-related workplace fatalities has increased by at least 25 percent every year since 2012. In her statement accompanying the BLS report, OSHA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt said that it is no longer possible to ignore the fact that the nation’s opioid crisis is “a deadly and growing workplace issue” that has invaded the workplace and is “impacting Americans every day at home and, as this data demonstrates, increasingly on the job.”
One other workplace injury that saw a drastic uptick in fatalities between 2015 and 2016 was the number of people exposed to harmful substances or environment — a 22 percent increase.
“Today’s occupational fatality data show a tragic trend with the third consecutive increase in worker fatalities in 2016,” says OSHA’s Sweatt about the overall report, “and the highest since 2008. America’s workers deserve better.”
“[OSHA] is committed to finding new and innovative ways of working with employers and employees to improve workplace safety and health,” Sweatt continued. “[We] will work to address these trends through enforcement, compliance assistance, education and training, and outreach.”
But Peg Seminario, director of occupational safety and health for the AFL-CIO, says the new BLS report exposes disturbing trends in the workplace.
“The [latest] increase in job fatalities shows that for many…work is becoming more dangerous and deadly,” says Seminario. When noting that the 5,190 total workplace deaths translates to 14 workers each day, she points out that it is “the highest total number since 2008 and the highest daily average rate since 2010.”
Seminario added that job fatalities are increasing in growing sectors of the economy, such as healthcare and food services, which historically receive little attention and oversight from workplace safety agencies. The same is true for groups of workers that lack OSHA protection. “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, had been frozen for years before then, and the number of state and local governmental safety inspectors has experienced parallel shrinkage.
The National Safety Council (NSC) also released a statement noting that it is “very disheartened to see the latest data from the BLS showing seven percent rise in workplace deaths since 2015. Employers cannot ignore this data, particularly since many different demographics are affected.”
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