Safety and OSHA News

Worker deaths up — in this economy?


Attention, those who believe that OSHA has gone overboard with its workplace safety regulations: You’ve got one less fact to support your argument. When all is said and done, the final count of worker fatalities in 2010 will be higher than in 2009.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 4,547 people died from work-related injuries in 2010, compared to 4,551 in 2009.

Yes, that is four fewer from one year to the next.

However, the figures that are first reported by BLS each August eventually go up when they’re finalized the following April. Over the last three years, the final, revised total has gone up an average of 174 fatalities.

Total hours worked were up slightly in 2010 compared to 2009.

However, if the usual increase in the final numbers is similar to previous years, workplace deaths from 2009 to 2010 will have gone up about 3.7%.

Some statistics from the BLS report:

  • The rate of work fatalities was 3.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, the same as 2009.
  • Fatal injuries among the self-employed declined 6%, while deaths among employees increased 2%.
  • Deaths in construction declined 10% from 2009 to 2010 and are down nearly 40% since 2003.
  • Workplace homicides declined 7%.
  • Top causes of worker deaths were transportation incidents (39%), assaults and violence (18%), and contact with objects and equipment (16%).
  • Texas had the largest number of worker deaths (456) followed by California (302), Pennsylvania (219) and Florida (215). New Hampshire had the fewest (5).

The number of fatalities doesn’t always decrease from year to year. Overall, it’s estimated 14,000 workers died per year in the U.S. before OSHA was created in 1971, so there’s been a large improvement since then.

Given these statistics, here are the questions: How much effect does OSHA have on the number of worker fatalities? Since 12 workers die per day, on average, in the U.S., do you think more new and updated OSHA regs are needed? What is the best thing OSHA can do (if anything) to reduce worker deaths? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. OSHA should hire more Inspectors/trainers and open up more OSHA sub-stations in every state of the U.S. for more overall coverage.
    I was a safety Mgr for a roofing company for years and also a underground utility company and hardly ever seen an OSHA complience person unless a serious accident or fataility occured.
    Unfortunately we still have a lot of employers that look at OSHA as an adversarial agency rather than an agency to help prevent unnecessary accidents and help employers increase company profits.
    OSHA should not negoiate fines down to a mere fraction of the original fines imposed on companies that disregard safety rules. ( try to negoiate a traffic citation down in front of a judge )

  2. I think that OSHA’s impact on fatalities is best seen in the heavy construction industry, where OSHA maintains a more vigilant presence. The 40% decline in worker deaths over a 7 year span is impressive. The challenge will be to find ways to decrease worker deaths that are due to society’s problems: driving hazards and acts of violence. I think that it will take more than OSHA to solve those issues, sad to say. But I firmly believe that if the OSHA regs were to be removed, or if they stopped enforcing the regs, we would quickly go back to earlier levels of worker deaths.

  3. Hire more inspectors? With what money?

  4. Jeff, more workers could be paid by increasing fines.

  5. From the article: “Overall, it’s estimated 14,000 workers died per year in the U.S. before OSHA was created in 1971, so there’s been a large improvement since then.”

    Give me a break. In 1976, 95 percent of OSHA citations were classified as “nonserious,” while recently it is more like 70 percent of citations being classified as “serious.” How does this figure if we are in fact getting safer overall (less fatalities)? To me this screams that the increased regulation and fines from OSHA is political and not about injury prevention at all, which brings me to my next point.

    In 1933 there were 37 fatalities/100,000 workers. In 1969 there were 18 fatalities/100,000. In 1993 there were 8. It seems to me the trajectory of fatality reduction is consistent pre-OSHA and post-OSHA (approx 50% reduction between 1933 and 1969, approx 50% reduction between 1969 1993).

    The idea that companies wouldn’t have continued to improve safety and health sans OSHA is a complete myth. Not to mention the increase cost of dealing with the agency.

  6. I would argue, at least in my neck of the woods, the hours worked from 2009 to 2010 were WAY up. People spending more time on the job could potentially explain a slight increase in the overall number of injuries.

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