Workplace Fatality Rate Fell 7 Percent in 2012

Large uptick in oil and gas industry deaths

By Roy Maurer Sep 6, 2013

The number of fatal occupational injuries in the United States fell 7 percent in 2012, but upticks in the construction and oil and gas industries are prompting concern.

The national fatality rate last year dropped to 3.2 deaths for every 100,000 full-time workers from the 2011 rate of 3.5 deaths, according to preliminary data released Aug. 22, 2013, by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

A preliminary total of 4,383 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2012, down from a revised count of 4,693 such injuries in 2011, according to results from the annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.

The 2012 total represents the second-lowest preliminary total since the census was first taken in 1992.

Despite the overall decline in worker deaths, fatal injuries in private-sector construction rose 5 percent to 775 in 2012, from 738 in 2011, even though the total hours worked in the industry rose just 1 percent, according to the BLS. Private-sector construction fatalities had dropped for five consecutive years because of employment decreases, and overall they are still down 37 percent since 2006.

In 2012 fatal injuries in the oil and gas extraction industry rose 23 percent to a record 138.

Employment numbers in the oil and gas industry have jumped in recent years amid the U.S. production boom.

“We can and must do better,” said recently confirmed Labor Secretary Tom Perez. “Job gains in oil and gas and construction have come with more fatalities, and that is unacceptable. That’s why [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] has undertaken a number of outreach and educational initiatives, including a campaign to prevent falls in construction and the National Voluntary Stand Down of U.S. Onshore Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, co-sponsored by oil and gas industry employers and planned for November 14.”

Demographics of 2012 Workplace Fatalities

The number of fatal work injuries involving white workers declined 10 percent in 2012 but rose 13 percent for Asian workers and slightly for black workers.

There were 708 fatal work injuries among Hispanic or Latino workers in 2012, compared with 749 the previous year, representing a 5 percent decrease. Sixty-four percent of fatalities incurred by Hispanic or Latino workers involved foreign-born workers.

Overall, in 2012 there were 777 fatal work injuries involving foreign-born workers, the greatest share (38 percent) of whom were born in Mexico.

Fatal work injuries increased for those under 16 years old, rising from 10 in 2011 to 19 in 2012—the highest level since 2005. Fourteen of these young workers were employed in agriculture.

Fatal work injuries involving men fell from 4,308 in 2011 to 4,045 (92 percent of all workers killed on the job) in 2012—the lowest total yet recorded. As for women, 338 lost their lives while at work last year, mostly as the victims of homicides or road accidents.

In 2012, 708 of those who were killed were contractors, many of whom worked in construction or transportation.

Fatal-Incident Breakdown

Forty-one percent of all fatal workplace injuries were caused by transportation incidents, which include car accidents and plane crashes. Of the 1,789 transportation-related fatal injuries, about 58 percent (1,044 cases) were due to roadway incidents.

Overall, 688 workers were killed as a result of homicides and suicides, the second-highest cause of worker fatalities. The work-related suicide total for 2012 declined 10 percent from 2011, while the homicide total was also slightly lower. Shootings were the most frequent manner of death in both homicides (81 percent) and suicides (48 percent). Of the fatal work injuries suffered by female workers, 29 percent were from homicides.

Fatal slips, trips or falls took the lives of 668 workers in 2012, down slightly from the previous year.

The number of workers fatally injured after being struck by objects or equipment rose to 509 in 2012 from 476 in 2011, an increase of 7 percent.

Seven percent of worker fatalities were due to exposure to electricity, extreme temperatures and contact with harmful substances. Fires and explosions were responsible for 3 percent of worker deaths in 2012.

There were 142 multiple-fatality incidents in 2012, in which 341 workers died.

The 10 Deadliest Jobs

The BLS breaks down the numbers to identify the country’s most dangerous professions.

The 10 deadliest occupations, according to the data are:

  1. Loggers, with a fatality rate of 128 per 100,000 workers. Sixty-two loggers were killed while working in 2012.
  2. Fishermen, 32 of whom died in 2012, marking a fatality rate of 117 per 100,000 workers.
  3. Pilots—especially in the skies over Alaska, where many of the 71 fatalities occurred in 2012—with a fatality rate of 53 per 100,000 workers.
  4. Roofers, with a fatality rate of 40 per 100,000 workers. Seventy roofers died on the job last year.
  5. Ironworkers, with a fatality rate of 37 per 100,000. Twenty-two workers died in 2012, mostly from falls and electrocutions from contacts with power lines.
  6. Sanitation workers, with a fatality rate of 27 per 100,000. Twenty-six sanitation workers died on the job in 2012.
  7. Electrical power line workers, of whom 26 died in 2012, with a fatality rate of 23 per 100,000 workers.
  8. Sales/truck drivers, with the highest death toll of any occupation—741—and a fatality rate of 22 per 100,000.
  9. Farmers and ranchers, with a fatality rate of 21 per 100,000 workers. In 2012, 216 died on the job.
  10. 1Construction workers, with a fatality rate of 17 per 100,000. Last year 210 construction laborers died.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.


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