Workplace fatalities slightly decreased in 2005, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The BLS found that a total of 5,702 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2005, down about 1 percent from 2004.
In 2005, fatal work injuries occurred on an average of four per every 100,000 workers, down slightly from a rate of 4.1 per 100,000 workers in 2004.
"The overall decrease in workplace fatalities is the third lowest annual total recorded since BLS began collecting this data," said Edwin G. Foulke Jr., administrator of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "Many of our initiatives to reduce workplace fatalities are showing tremendous success, but there is still more work to do."
Highway accidents lead fatalities, the study found. Highway incidents remained the most frequent type of fatal workplace event, accounting for one in every four fatalities in 2005. Overall, fatal highway incidents rose by 2 percent, accounting for 1,428 workers' deaths. Nonhighway incidents--such as those that might occur on a farm or industrial premises--stayed about the same.
Fatal falls are on the decline, the study also found. The 767 fatal falls recorded in 2005 represented a 7 percent decline from the series high recorded in 2004. There were fewer fatal falls from roofs, from 180 in 2004 to 160 in 2005, the study round. There were also fewer fatal falls from ladders, from 135 to 129, over the same period. In addition, there were fewer fatal falls from stairs or steps, 27 to 17, and from nonmoving vehicles, from 84 to 74.
However, fatal falls on the same level--to a floor or onto or against objects, for example--rose to 83 in 2005 from 61 in 2004.
Workplace homicides increased, as well, in 2005 compared with the previous year. A total of 564 workplace homicides were recorded in 2005, up from 559 in 2004. However, workplace suicides were sharply lower in 2005, dropping 14 percent to a series low of 177 fatalities.
Nearly half the fatalities, 48 percent, occurred in the service industries. Goods-producing industries accounted for 43 percent. The remaining 9 percent of the fatal work injuries in 2005 involved government workers. More than 90 percent of all fatal work injuries recorded in 2005 occurred in private industry.
The private construction industry accounted for 1,186 fatal work injuries, the most of any industry sector and about one out of every five fatal work injuries recorded in 2005. While the total number of construction fatalities in 2005 was 4 percent lower than in 2004, the number of fatalities in residential-building construction, utility-system construction, and highway, street and bridge construction increased.
These increases were offset by an 11 percent decline in the number of fatalities to specialty-trade contractors. Their fatalities dropped to 675 in 2005, from 759 in 2004. Fatalities to roofing contractors, which fell to 75 in 2005 from 116 in 2004, accounted for almost half of the decrease in the number of specialty-trade contractor fatalities.
Transportation employees have the highest number of fatalities of any occupation. Transportation and material-moving occupations accounted for the highest number of fatalities of any major occupational group. They reached 1,543 fatalities in 2005, up 2 percent from the 2004 level.
Fatalities among motor-vehicle operators accounted for 71 percent of all fatal work injuries in this occupational group and were higher by 7 percent in 2005 compared with 2004. However, fatalities involving air-transportation workers were down 26 percent to 81 in 2005 from 109 in 2004.
YOUNG BEAR THE BRUNT
The number of fatal work injuries among young workers is cause for concern. Fatalities for employees under 20 years of age were up 18 percent from the 2004 figure, to 166 cases.
Fatal work injuries involving women in 2005 were down. Fatalities for women fell 3 percent to 402 cases--the lowest total ever recorded by the fatality censusus.
Fatal work injuries among Hispanic workers increased by 2 percent in 2005 to a new series high. However, due to higher employment averages, the fatality rate for Hispanic workers was lower. Fatalities involving foreign-born Hispanic workers were also higher, rising to a series high of 625 fatal work injuries, up from 596 in 2004.
Fatalities among black workers rose, as well, to 577 fatal work injuries in 2005 from 546 in 2004. Fatalities involving Asians and Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders declined to 162 in 2005 from 180 in 2004.
The latest numbers were not enough to satisfy union leaders who said the latest statistics underscore a worsening situation for many of the nation's most vulnerable workers--including increases in on-the-job deaths among people of color and children.
"Our workplaces should be getting safer, not more dangerous," said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO. "Yet six years of Bush administration neglect and failure of workplace health and safety have put millions of workers at increased danger. It's clear that a change in direction and leadership is needed to protect workers on the job and to improve their lives."
Sweeney said that while some groups of workers saw improvements, fatalities increased among Latinos, blacks, children, immigrants and agriculture workers.
"Sadly, but not surprisingly, these numbers confirm that under the Bush administration, workers at the bottom of the economic ladder are paying a very heavy price," said Sweeney.
Sweeney also noted that several states--Wisconsin, Montana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Arizona, South Carolina, Maryland, Arkansas, Texas and Missouri--saw significant increases in job fatalities. Workplace-related deaths in three of these states, Wisconsin, Montana and Mississippi, increased by more than 25 percent.
The BLS study also found that 29 work-related fatalities were attributable to hurricanes and their aftermath in 2005. Work-related deaths due to the hurricanes were concentrated in Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida. There were 10 work-related deaths, attributable to the hurricanes, in Mississippi and eight each in Louisiana and Florida.
Hurricane Katrina was blamed for the Mississippi and Louisiana deaths, while about half of the Florida deaths were associated with Hurricane Wilma.
Of the 29 cases identified by the fatality census, nine involved workers who were struck by objects, eight involved transportation-related incidents and five resulted from falls.
The BLS said the data on work-related fatalities attributable to hurricanes was difficult to collect and verify, and therefore might be subject to revision.
DANGER: DROWSY DRIVERS
In new research unrelated to the BLS workplace fatality data, it was found that truck drivers who routinely get too little sleep or suffer from sleep apnea show signs of fatigue and impaired performance that can make them a hazard on the road.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine examined 406 truck drivers and found that those who routinely slept less than five hours a night were likely to fare poorly on tests designed to measure sleepiness, attention and reaction time, and steering ability.
"There are daytime neurobehavioral performance impairments that are found commonly in commercial drivers, and these are more likely among those who get an average of five or less hours of sleep a night and those who suffer from severe obstructive sleep apnea," said Allan Pack, who headed the study.
Tired truck drivers had impaired performance similar to that of drivers who are legally drunk, said Pack, who directs the university's Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology.
Nearly 5 percent of the truckers in the study had severe sleep apnea, and about 13 percent of the drivers got fewer than five hours of sleep a night on a regular basis. About half of the drivers who got less than five hours had two or three impairments, the study found.
About 5,000 people are killed each year in the United States in crashes involving commercial trucks. Many of the accidents happen when the driver falls asleep at the wheel.
lives in Chicago. These stories originally appeared in the Sept. 12, 2006 issue of
Workers' Compensation Report, a newsletter published by LRP Publications Inc., the parent company of
Risk & Insurance®.
November 1, 2006
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