U.S. Workplace Fatalities Drop 5 Percent in 2013 Increases in contractor, Hispanic worker deaths reported

By Roy Maurer Sep 16, 2014
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The number of fatal occupational injuries in the United States fell 5 percent in 2013, although the number of temporary contractors and Hispanic workers who died on the job increased, according to preliminary data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The national fatality rate fell from 3.4 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2012 to 3.2 deaths in 2013, according to results from the annual BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.

The survey recorded 4,405 fatal work injuries in the United States in 2013, which is 223 lower than the final count of 4,628 fatal work injuries in 2012. Private-sector fatal work injuries, a subset of the total, fell 6 percent below the 2012 rate. The preliminary 2013 count of 3,929 fatal injuries in private industry represents the lowest annual total since the survey was first conducted in 1992.

Rise in Hispanic Worker Deaths

Despite the overall decline in worker deaths, fatal work injuries among Hispanic workers rose 7 percent from 2012 to 797 in 2013, the highest total since 2008. The fatal injury rate for Hispanic workers was 3.8 per 100,000 workers. Fatal work injuries were lower among all other racial and ethnic groups: 6 percent lower among white workers, 15 percent lower among black workers, and 22 percent lower among Asian workers.

Sixty-six percent of the Hispanic workers who died were foreign-born. Overall, there were 845 fatal work injuries involving foreign-born workers in 2013; the largest proportion of those workers (42 percent) were born in Mexico.

Contractor Deaths Up

Since 2011, the BLS has identified whether fatally-injured workers were working as temporary contractors at the time of the fatal incident. In 2013, 734 worker fatalities were identified as contractors, above the 715 reported in 2012. Contractors accounted for 17 percent of all cases in 2013.

Half of all contractors suffering fatal injuries (367) were working in construction and extraction occupations. They were most often employed as construction laborers (95), first-line supervisors/managers (48), roofers (39), carpenters (26), and electricians (26).

Falls accounted for 31 percent of contractor deaths while workers being struck by objects or equipment (18 percent), struck by vehicles (11 percent), or being exposed to electricity (7 percent) were also frequent fatal events among contractors.

Fatally-injured contractors were most often contracted by a government entity (20 percent) and by private construction firms (19 percent). Other dangerous occupations for contractors include heavy truck driving (55 deaths), security (22), and landscaping (14).

Suicides Up 8 Percent

Overall, 667 workers were killed in 2013 as a result of homicides and suicides. The work-related suicide total was 8 percent higher than the 2012 total. The homicide total was lower in 2013, falling 16 percent to 397 from 475 in 2012. The majority of homicides (80 percent) and suicides (47 percent) were the result of shootings. Twenty-two percent of the 302 fatal work injuries of female workers involved homicides, compared to 8 percent for men.

Forty percent of all fatal workplace injuries were caused by transportation incidents, which include car accidents and plane crashes. Of the 1,740 transportation-related fatal injuries in 2013, about 60 percent (991 cases) were due to roadway incidents.

Fatal slips, trips or falls took the lives of 699 workers in 2013, up 5 percent from the previous year.

The number of workers who were fatally injured after being struck by objects or equipment was 3 percent lower—503 fatal work injuries in 2013 compared to 519 in 2012. This total includes 245 workers struck by falling objects or equipment and another 105 workers fatally injured after being caught in running equipment or machinery.

Fatal injuries involving fires and explosions were 21 percent higher in 2013—148 fatalities compared to 122 in 2012. This was due in part to the Yarnell Hill wildfires in Arizona which took the lives of 19 firefighters. Overall, there were 146 multiple-fatality incidents in 2013, in which 375 workers died.

The Most Dangerous Jobs

Construction work accounted for the largest number of deaths of any industry with 796 fatalities and a rate of 9.4 deaths for every 100,000 workers. This was still lower than the 806 deaths and rate of 9.9 in 2012.

Among construction worker fatalities, 241 deaths were attributed to falls, 107 to transportation accidents, 105 to contact with equipment and objects, and 79 from exposure to harmful substances or environments.

The transportation and warehousing industry had the second highest number of fatalities with 687 deaths and a rate of 13.1. This was also lower than the industry’s 2012 numbers (741 deaths) and rate of 14.6.

The BLS will release the final 2013 fatality numbers in 2015. Historically, the revised totals are slightly higher than those reflected in the preliminary data.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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