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Work Deaths Show Mixed Picture

Monday, September 14, 2009

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Fatal work injuries among painters and paperhangers rose in 2008, amid a general decline in workplace deaths, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported. But the new numbers may not give the full picture.

A total of 5,071 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States last year, down from 5,657 fatal work injuries reported for 2007, according to BLS. While the 2008 results are preliminary, this figure represents the smallest annual preliminary total since the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program was first conducted in 1992. Final results for 2008 will be released in April 2010.

Based on these preliminary counts, the rate of fatal injury for U.S. workers in 2008 was 3.6 fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, down from the final rate of 4.0 in 2007

In announcing the numbers, however, labor officials attached several caveats.

First, BLS has changed its method of calculating fatality rates. In June, the agency began to base its injury and fatality rates on hours worked, as opposed to employment, saying this was more accurate in measuring the risk of dying from an injury on the job. This may affect comparisons between the current numbers and those from previous years.

Second, the economy may have played a role in two ways: by slashing work hours last year, especially in the high-risk construction field, and by cutting back on personnel to report and disseminate the CFOI data.

“Economic factors likely played a role in the fatality decrease,” BLS said in a statement. “Average hours worked at the national level fell by one percent in 2008, and some industries that have historically accounted for a significant share of worker fatalities, such as construction, experienced larger declines in employment or hours worked.”

Furthermore, budget-strapped state agencies “may have delayed the receipt and processing of” CFOI cases, BLS said. When states clear that backlog, the final numbers “have the potential to be larger.”

While workers in construction incurred the most fatalities of any industry in the private sector in 2008, the number of fatalities in construction declined 20 percent, from 1,204 cases in 2007 to 969 cases in 2008.  Fatalities involving workers in the construction of buildings were down 21 percent from 2007, with most of the decrease occurring in residential building construction (down 28 percent, to 93 cases).

Although fatalities in construction and extraction occupations declined overall, painters, paperhangers, first-line supervisors/managers of construction trades and extraction workers, and construction equipment operators were among the groups that had higher numbers of fatal injuries in 2008.

Construction laborers, carpenters, brick masons, electricians, roofers, pipe layers, plumbers, and extraction workers were among the groups that saw declines. 

Other key findings of the 2008 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries:

• Fatal workplace falls, which had risen to a series high in 2007, declined by 20 percent in 2008. Fatal falls to a lower level, which accounted for 85 percent of all falls, were down 23 percent in 2008.  Fatal falls from roofs were down 26 percent, and falls from ladders decreased by 14 percent.  The number of fatal falls on the same level (to a floor or walkway or against an object) increased slightly.

• Workplace suicides were up 28 percent to an all-time high of 251 cases in 2008; workplace homicides declined 18 percent.

• Overall, 90 percent of the fatal work injuries involved workers in private industry. The number and rate of fatal work injuries among 16- to 17-year-old workers were higher in 2008.

For additional data, visit For technical information about the CFOI program, see the BLS Handbook of Methods at  The technical information and definitions for the CFOI Program are in Chapter 9, Part III of the handbook.


Tagged categories: Health and safety; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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