In 2007, the number of workers killed on the job dropped to an all-time low, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. That year, there were a total of 5,488 worker deaths — the fewest since the Bureau began keeping track in 1992. That is down 6% from the 5,840 deaths reported in 2006.
Although this is great news, the Bureau also discovered a significant increase in a few specific types of fatal injuries. For example, a record number of workers died from falls in 2007. Therefore, experts say there is still a drastic need for an increase in violation fines as well as more intense safety training programs for construction and transportation workers — two of the riskiest jobs in the United States.
Here are a few more of the eye-opening findings from the 2007 fatality census:
- The construction industry once again had the most deaths of any private sector, with 1,178 fatalities in 2007. However, there was a 5% decrease in construction worker deaths from 2006, when there were 1,239 fatalities.
- The overall rate was 3.7 fatal injuries for every 100,000 workers in the U.S., the lowest annual rate ever reported by the bureau. That’s down from a rate of 4.0 deaths for every 100,000 workers in 2006.
- Transportation incidents continued to be the No. 1 cause of on-the-job fatalities, accounting for two-fifths of all worker deaths. However, the number of transportation-related fatalities dropped to an all-time low of 2,234 in 2007.
- The number of fatal falls grew to a record 835 in 2007. Fatal falls have increased by a whopping 39% since the BLS started tracking data in 1992.
• Workplace homicides skyrocketed to a total of 610, up 13% from 2006. This includes a substantial increase in homicides involving police officers and retail supervisors.
According to Elaine L. Chao, U.S. Department of Labor’s Secretary of Labor, this decrease in overall fatalities are “continued evidence that the initiatives and programs to protect workers’ safety and health, designed by an implemented in this administration, are indeed working.”
Other experts say that while a 6% decrease is certainly an improvement, 5,488 worker deaths are still 5,488 too many. Some say the government needs to enforce a stronger penalty system under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which could help decrease worker deaths even more. Under current law, committing a willful violation of worker-safety laws that causes the death of a worker results in a mere six-month misdemeanor. The maximum administrative penalty of $70,000 per violation has not been increased since 1990. Many experts say these penalties are simply not severe enough.
Also, some point out that it’s difficult to gauge the number of fatalities by looking at just a two-year period. Many believe you must look at the statistics over five to 10 years to understand the actual trends.
Despite how you look at the numbers, one thing is certain: Strong safety-training programs are vital to the well-being of workers. Companies must continue to focus on good safety practices to ensure their workers return home safely each and every day.