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December 19, 2019
BLS: Workplace fatalities increased in 2018

There were 5,250 fatal workplace injuries in the United States in 2018, a 2 percent increase from 5,147 in 2017, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported December 17 with the release of data from its Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI).

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The fatal workplace injury rate remained unchanged at 3.5 per 100,000 full-time workers.

Besides an overall increase in workplace fatalities, the BLS reported significant increases in two causes of fatal occupational injuries:

  • A 12 percent increase in deaths from unintentional overdoses due to nonmedical use of drugs or alcohol while at work from 272 to 305—the sixth consecutive annual increase; and
  • An 11 percent increase in work-related suicides from 275 to 304.

The National Safety Council (NSC) recently released an “Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit” that includes fact sheets, posters, sample policies, scripts for 5-minute safety talks, slide presentations, and videos to help employers address workplace impacts of the ongoing opioid crisis.

There also was 3 percent increase in deaths in 2018 from violence and other injuries by persons or animals. The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish a federal workplace violence prevention standard for health care and social services.

Other fatal injuries

Fatal incidents involving contact with objects and equipment increased 13 percent (from 695 to 786), driven by a 39 percent increase in workers caught in running equipment or machinery and a 17 percent increase in workers struck by falling objects or equipment.

Caught-in/-between and struck-by object hazards are two of OSHA’s “Focus Four” hazards, along with electrocution and falls. The agency recently emphasized inspections for Focus Four hazards in its revised enforcement weighting system. The four are the leading causes of construction fatalities other than highway collisions.

Fatal falls, slips, and trips decreased 11 percent to 791, after reaching an all-time high of 887 in 2017. The decline was due to a 14 percent drop in falls to a lower level (from 713 to 615), the lowest total since 2013.

Transportation incidents remained the most frequent type of fatal event at 2,080, accounting for 40 percent of all work-related fatalities. Driver/sales workers and truck drivers had the most fatalities of any broad occupational group at 966. Among detailed occupations, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers had the most fatalities at 831.

The National Safety Council (NSC) recently pointed to motor vehicle crashes as a leading cause of injuries and deaths in its objection to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proposal to amend the hours-of-service regulations for commercial motor vehicle drivers. The NSC urged the FMCSA to keep the current regulations in place.

The BLS began identifying fatal injuries to independent workers in the CFOI in 2016. There were 621 fatal injuries to independent workers in 2018—up from 613 in 2017. Independent workers comprised 12 percent of all fatal injuries in 2018. Occupations with the most fatal work injuries to independent workers in 2018 were heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers (96), followed by first-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers (61), and construction laborers (48).

Independent workers are involved in a work relationship that is finite but that can involve a single task, a short-term contract, or freelance work.

OSHA response

OSHA pointed out in its response to the latest CFOI release that the rate of fatal work injuries remained unchanged.

“OSHA will continue to use BLS for enforcement targeting within its jurisdiction to help prevent tragedies,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt said in an agency statement.

“Inspections for OSHA were up, and we will work with state plans so employers and workers can find compliance assistance tools in many forms or call the agency to report unsafe working conditions,” Sweatt said. “Any fatality is one too many.”

In response to the 11 percent increase in workplace suicides, OSHA created a new webpage with free and confidential resources to help identify the warning signs of suicide and to help users know who and how to call for help.

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