September 30, 2004

Workplace deaths increased in 2003

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.



While I share your view that it is distressing to see work-related fatalities increase, I think your post should have pointed out that the number of deaths in 2004 was (only)25 more than the lowest total since the survey began in 1992(5534 in 2202). Obviously that is no consolation to the workers' families, but I think the omitted information puts the number in a different perspective. My source for this is the linked article in your post from

Thanks for your comment, Larry. It's true, the trendline for workplace deaths had been going down before 2003, and that was indeed a positive development. We can only hope that last year was an anomaly and the trendline will continue on the downward path...but probably not without effort, particularly if the economy results in new hires. One of the things that I find so galling about so many workplace deaths is how many of them could have been prevented with the right precautions - i.e. trench deaths.

The only way that the death toll will go down again is if employers are made accoutable for these deaths, and not given small slaps on the hand my OSHA.

Good point, Cindy. We've written about the Wrongful Death Accountability Act previously, and more recently, about the proposed law for making willful safety violations a felony. In such a contentious political climate, it's probably doubtful anything will be done this election year. We hope that one of these laws or a similar law will gain traction.


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This page contains a single entry by Julie Ferguson published on September 30, 2004 7:01 PM.

Going back to basics in workers' compensation was the previous entry in this blog.

New Overtime Regulations Impact Workers Compensation is the next entry in this blog.

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