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Solis: 3.6 Fatality Rate Not Good Enough

Although BLS' preliminary total of 5,071 deaths in 2008 means the fatal injury rate for U.S. workers dropped to 3.6 per 100,000 from the previous year's 4.0, celebration may be premature: Delayed processing by state agencies may bump the totals more than in past years, BLS said.

The lowest total of workplace fatalities in the 17-year history of the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 5,071, still shows room for improvement, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said after BLS released its preliminary CFOI summary for 2008 today. The preliminary total of 5,071 means the fatal injury rate for U.S. workers in 2008 was 3.6 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, versus the 4.0 final rate of 2007, when 5,657 fatal work injuries were reported.

Breakdowns of 2008 data by BLS show:

  • Transportation incidents were again the leading cause of deaths -- 1,149 highway incidents, 283 farm or industrial transportation incidents, 322 workers struck by vehicles, 189 deaths in aircraft accidents, etc.
  • Workplace homicides fell to 517 from 628 in 2007, but workplace fatalities attributed to self-inflicted injuries rose from 196 to 251.
  • Struck by object or equipment fatalities did not decline. There were 508 in 2008's preliminary report, up slightly from 504 in 2007. Similarly, deaths of workers caught in or compressed by equipment were unchanged -- 299 in 2008 versus 296 in 2007.
  • Fatal workplace falls, which rose to a series high of 847 in 2007, dropped by 20 percent, to 680, in 2008 -- but same-level fatal falls were unchanged (81 in 2007, 84 in 2008).
  • The 774 deaths of Hispanic workers in 2008 were 17 percent below those in 2007. Construction and transportation & warehousing were the industry sectors with the highest fatality totals in 2008.
  • Fires and explosions caused 173 deaths in 2008, up from 152 in 2007.

BLS began using fatality rates based on hours worked instead of employment for the CFOI in June 2009 and says the new ones more accurately measure the risk of dying from an injury on the job. For information on the rates, visit this page.

"Economic factors likely played a role in the fatality decrease. 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," the agency explained. "In addition to the impact of declining employment, another factor that should be considered when reviewing these preliminary results is how the economy may have impacted the government agencies that provide source documents used in the compilation of CFOI data. Budget constraints at some of these governmental agencies may have delayed the receipt and processing of the documents that are used by our State partners to classify and code CFOI cases. The average net increase in CFOI cases as a result of updates over the past two years has been 153 cases, but the updated 2008 counts scheduled for release in April 2010 have the potential to be larger because of these delays."

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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