How bad is it?
When the Occupational Safety and Health Act passed in the U.S. in 1970, the death rate per 100,000 workers was 18. A total of 13,800 workers died on the job that year. By 2013, the number fell to 4585 fatalities. These gains are attributed to regulation and enforcement, but have plateaued in recent years. In 2014, 4679 workers died on the job, a 2% rise in the number of fatalities over the previous year. The number of workers dying on the job is going up, not down.
Is that all of it?
These are only the injuries that get reported. 3.8 million on-the-job injuries and illnesses get reported each year, but it is estimated that two to three times as many actually occur but go unreported.
An additional 50,000 deaths occur each year, 150 per day, due to exposure to hazardous substances; many of these regulations are antiquated.
What about where I live?
The five most dangerous states to work are: North Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia, Alaska, and New Mexico. North Dakota has held the top spot for the third year in a row with 14.9 deaths per 100,000 people, four times the national average. The number of deaths and fatality rate there has doubled since 2007, largely attributed to the oil and gas boom. Wyoming is another state with energy resources and a small population but high fatality rates at 9.5. With 26 deaths in 2013 and 30 in 2014, things are heading in the wrong direction. New Mexico also blames their double the national average rate on the oil and gas boom. Of their 6.7 fatality rate, 25% can be attributed to the oil and gas industry.
The problem doesn’t only exist in the United States. Worker fatality rates have been climbing in Canada for the last 15 years. Four Canadian workers die on average each day at work. In the European Union, work-related deaths spiked 17% in 2014, led by agricultural-related fatalities.
What other groups are impacted?
Latino and immigrant workers experience an increased rate of risk. 817 Latinos were fatally injured at work in 2013, 18% greater than the national average. Two-thirds of Latinos fatally injured were born outside the United States. Other minority worker groups including African Americans and Asian Americans showed an increase in worker fatality rates also.
Statistics show increased death rates for contract workers, self-employed workers, and older workers. In 2014, self-employed fatality rates increased 10%; contract workers jumped 6%. Workers 55+ experienced a 9% increase. Although they still represent less than 10% of total worker fatalities, women suffered a 13% increase in fatalities as well.
Are certain industries more dangerous?
Food industry workers have a 60% higher rate of work-related injury/illness than those in other industries. Lost-time injuries were twice as likely. Fatality was 9.5 times more likely.
Three percent of all fatalities in 2014 were attributed to the oil and gas industry, despite employing less than one percent of workers. The industry had 142 deaths in 2014, up from 112 the previous year. That makes it seven times more dangerous than other industries on average.
In 2014, mining and law enforcement-related deaths were up by 17%. Agriculture experienced a large increase with 14%. Manufacturing had a significant uptick at 9% and construction increased as well with 6%.
Who is to blame?
OSHA only has enough inspectors to inspect every workplace once every 140 years, and state OSHA regulators once every 91 years. Weak enforcement is an issue also, with OSHA penalties for serious violations averaging less than $2000 and just over $5000 for worker fatalities. Of the 390,000 on-the-job deaths since 1970, only 88 cases have been criminally prosecuted by OSHA, a fraction of a percent.
What can I do?
Are you doing all you can to prevent injury and death in the workplace? Are you tracking near misses? For every death in the workplace, statistics show there were 600 near misses that preceded it and 10 serious injuries. If you were tracking and capitalizing on these lessons, could you prevent that next fatality?
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By Stacey Wagner