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After Drop, Workplace Deaths on Upswing

Thursday, April 26, 2012

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More deaths in confined spaces and several large-scale disasters fueled an overall increase in fatalities on the job in 2010, according to new data by the Labor Department.

Although the total number of fatalities remained low by historical standards, both the overall number and the rate of workplace deaths increased in 2010 over 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

 Eleven deaths aboard BP’s Deepwater Horizon in April 2010 contributed to a higher death toll among U.S. workers that year, the Labor Department said.

 US Coast Guard

Eleven deaths aboard BP’s Deepwater Horizon in April 2010 contributed to a higher death toll among U.S. workers that year, the Labor Department said.

The 2010 toll included three highly publicized disasters: BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 people in the Gulf of Mexico; the Upper Big Branch coal mine blast that killed 29; and an explosion at Tesoro Corp.’s oil refinery in Washington State, which killed seven.

“Every day, 12 people go to work and don’t come home,” said Dr. David Michaels, administrator of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says. “This is intolerable.”

3 Percent Increase

A total of 4,690 U.S. workers suffered fatal injuries in 2010, a 3 percent increase from 2009, BLS reported. Even excluding the BP, Upper Big Branch and Tesoro disasters, the toll rose over 2009, when 4,551 workers died.

The death rate inched up to 3.6 per 100,000 workers in 2010, from 3.5 in 2009.

Falls, a perennial killer, were again the No. 2 cause of death, after fatal highway incidents. Workplace falls claimed 646 lives in 2010, up one from 2009.

Those categories were followed by homicides and struck-by accidents, which both declined over the prior year but remained in the top four.

The number of deaths increased in 28 states and the District of Columbia; 20 states saw declines; and two stayed the same, BLS reported.

Focus on Construction

Overall, the number of construction-related deaths fell from 834 in 2009 to 774 in 2010—a decline probably due more to higher unemployment than to safer working conditions, officials said.

Indeed, certain types of deaths increased in 2010, according to detailed information from BLS.

For example:

• Deaths from toxic chemical inhalations in confined spaces nearly doubled, to 26 cases from 14.

• Lack of oxygen in a confined space killed six workers in 2010; none in 2009.

• Six workers also perished from toxic sewer gases in 2010; none did so in 2009.

• Deaths from fires more than doubled, to 110 people from 53.

• Deaths from explosions increased to 80 from 60.

• Fatal falls from building girders and other structural steel increased by four, to 23 people, in 2010.

• Work-related transportation deaths increased to 1,857 from 1,795.

• Suicides increased from 263 to 270.

‘Progress Has Stalled’

BLS released the report just days before Workers Memorial Day, set for April 28. Labor unions launched the international event to honor workers who have been killed on the job.

“It’s disturbing that there hasn’t been any improvement in workplace fatalities in several years,” Peg Seminario, director of health and safety for the AFL-CIO, told the Center for Public Integrity. “It seems like progress has stalled.”

 The data were released just before Workers Memorial Day, a union-led initiative to focus on deaths in the workplace.
The data were released just before Workers Memorial Day, a union-led initiative to focus on deaths in the workplace.

Seminario said she would not be surprised to see the 2011 death toll increase as the economy recovered. “We’ll be looking carefully not only at the numbers, but the rates,” she said.

Among the deaths of 2010, CPI noted that of Emilio DeLeon, 19, who was electrocuted in a construction accident in Nebraska. The center reported a statement that DeLeon’s father, Albert, entered last week at a Senate hearing on worker safety.

“I have lost my Dad, Mom and Sister, and I have to tell you that losing my Son is the worst feeling I have ever had to endure,” the statement said in part.

‘Raise Their Voices’

OSHA fined the construction company that employed Emilio DeLeon $16,600 for his death, even though the agency had cited the firm four months earlier for serious safety violations, the center reported.

Despite the increases of 2010, the death toll in the American workplace has improved significantly in recent decades.

In 1970, when OSHA was established, about 14,000 workers died on the job each year. Deaths have declined dramatically since then, although the U.S. workforce has doubled.

Still, said Michaels, more needs to be done. In a statement released for Workers Memorial Day, Michaels urged Americans to “raise their voices in support of workers’ rights and to remember those who have paid the ultimate price for unsafe working conditions.”

“Making a living,” Michaels said, “shouldn’t include dying.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Confined space; Fall protection; Health and safety; Respirators

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