Workplace fatalities rose in 2003 to a total of 5,559 deaths, according to the Department of Labor. Here's a breakdown from the DOL report about the industry segments with the most deaths.
The construction industry had the most deaths - 1,126, followed by 805 deaths in the transportation and warehousing sector.
When the number of workers in each industry was considered, the highest death rate was in the sector of agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, with 31.2 deaths per 100,000 workers. Mining was next, with a rate of 26.9 per 100,000 workers. Construction's rate was 11.7, and transportation and warehousing's was 17.5.
The most frequent work-related deaths were on highways - 1,350 last year, compared with 1,373 in 2002.
Texas had 491 job-related deaths last year, earning the dubious distinction of being the state with the highest rate of increase for work-related fatalities. Texas increased by 17.7 percent in 2003, while the national number of fatalities increased by less than one percent compared to 2002.
One of the other trends that the Department of Labor data indicates is that Hispanic workers died on the job more frequently than others, with a rate of 4.5 deaths per 100,000 compared to a rate of 4.0 for whites and 3.7 for blacks.
We've posted about the high death rate for Mexican workers before. A recent disturbing report by the News & Observer of Raleigh depicts illegal practices in camps for migrant farm workers in North Carolina. When you read about the shocking and flagrant practices - it's almost unbelievable to think such abuses occur in the United States - it's not hard to understand why the death rate is so high.
North Carolina farmers have a legal pipeline to foreign workers, known as the federal H-2A program. But the number of H-2A workers has fallen 15 percent since 2002, from about 10,000 to 8,500 this year. Growers say the rising costs associated with the program have contributed to the decline.
H-2A workers in North Carolina are entitled to a wage of $8.06 an hour, workers compensation and round-trip travel reimbursement. In July, the Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee began a campaign to unionize H-2A workers.
Instead, farms increasingly find workers through labor contractors.
Whatever the industry, whatever the state, whatever the demographic group, it's distressing to see work-related fatalities increase. It's hard not to see a parallel with the "kinder, gentler" OSHA of recent years. As an industry, this is a trend we have to stop in its tracks.