Fatalities Down 17 Percent Last Year: BLS

BLS said the economy "played a major role" in the drop from 2008's final count of 5,214 workplace deaths to its preliminary 2009 total, 4,340. Almost every sector and type showed an improvement, notably construction and mining.

BLS today released its preliminary 2009 work fatalities total, 4,340, which is 17 percent below the 2008 final count of 5,214. Almost every sector and type showed an improvement, notably construction and mining. BLS stressed that the bad economy played a role in the decline.

"Economic factors played a major role in the fatal work injury decrease in 2009," its news release says. "Total hours worked fell by 6 percent in 2009 following a 1 percent decline in 2008, and some industries that have historically accounted for a significant share of fatal work injuries, such as construction, experienced even larger declines in employment or hours worked. In addition, some source documents used by CFOI [Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries] State partners to identify and verify fatal work injuries were delayed, due at least in part to fiscal constraints at some of the governmental agencies who regularly provide source documentation for the program."

In fact, the 2009 preliminary total is the lowest number since the CFOI program was first conducted in 1992. It represents a rate for U.S. workers in 2009 of 3.3 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, down from a final rate of 3.7 in 2008. "Counts and rates are likely to increase with the release of final 2009 CFOI results in April 2011," BLS says.

"A single worker hurt or killed on the job is one too many," U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said today. "While a decrease in the number of fatal work injuries is encouraging, we cannot and will not relent from our continued strong enforcement of workplace safety laws. As the economy regains strength and more people re-enter the workforce, the Department of Labor will remain vigilant to ensure America's workers are kept safe while they earn a paycheck. After all, as I've said before, no job is a good job unless it is also safe."

Key findings from the 2009 numbers:

  • Workplace homicides declined 1 percent in 2009, in contrast to an overall decline of 17 percent for all fatal work injuries; the 2009 homicide total includes 13 victims of the Fort Hood shooting.
  • Similarly, fatal injuries among self-employed workers were down only 3 percent.
  • Workplace suicides were down 10 percent in 2009 from the series high of 263 in 2008.
  • The number of fatal work injuries in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations rose by 6 percent, making it one of the few major occupation groups to record an increase from 2008.
  • Transportation incidents accounted for nearly 40 percent of all 2009 fatal work injuries but still fell 21 percent from 2,130 in 2008. Unfortunately, the 2009 final number for this category is likely to be higher. "Key source documentation detailing specific incidents related to transportation has not yet been received and could identify 100 or more cases if recent trends hold true," the release says.
  • Fatal falls declined 12 percent, from 700 in 2008 to 617 in 2009, the latter being 27 percent below the series high of 847 fatal falls reported in 2007. This is tied to the sharp drop in construction activity and employment since 2007, BLS says.
  • Fatal injuries to workers in forestry and logging were down by 50 percent, from 102 in 2008 to 51 in 2009, but fatal injuries among fishing, hunting, and trapping workers were higher.
  • Fatalities in mining declined by 43 percent and in manufacturing by 26 percent.
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