The Department of Labor's Monthly Labor Review features an 18-page report about work-related multiple-fatality incidents (pdf). While 9 out of every 10 work-related accidents that result in death involve a single fatality, between the study years of 1995 and 1999, 10 percent of the fatal events involved multiple deaths.
There were 1,109 incidents resulting in 2.949 deaths during the study years. Almost three quarters of these incidents involved two fatalities per event, but the nine worst catastrophes claimed a total of 266 workers’ lives. Nearly two-fifths of these multiple-fatality accidents involved transportation; homicides accounted for another one fifth of all such events.
The article presents side-by-side comparisons of by-exposure and by-industry data for multiple fatality events and all fatal events. This first-time study is an interesting way of viewing the data on fatalities because the data do not always track with the results for single-fatality events.
The data is not always what "conventional wisdom" might assume. Some workers that have a high proportion of overall fatalities, such as fishers and loggers, do not have a similarly high proportion of multiple-fatality events; other professions that might be expected to have a have a high proportion of multiple-fatality events, such as construction workers and miners, do not. While these occupations represent a high proportion of single-fatality incidents, they have a smaller proportion of multiple-fatality incidents. Yet while other occupations may have a low fatality rate overall, such as managerial and professional occupations, they have a significant proportion of multiple-fatality events when compared to overall fatalities for those professions. For example, the study reports:
"While managerial and professional specialty occupations account for one-ninth of overall occupational fatalities, they make up one-fifth of multiple-fatality transportation incidents and one-third of multiple-fatality homicides and suicides. For example, the legal profession, with a fatality rate a mere fraction of the overall rate, is very safe. Nevertheless, 14 multiple-fatality incidents involving 20 fatalities account for more than a quarter of the 74 work-related fatal injuries to lawyers, mainly air crashes in which workers in other occupations also died."
The report presents a snapshot of data from a different vantage, and as such, may be valuable to risk management and prevention efforts. The report concludes:
"First, multiple-fatality incidents occur in varying degrees in almost all event or exposure categories, but in some they make up larger or smaller shares of the category’s overall fatalities. Second, except in the case of murder-suicides, very rarely does the fatal event or exposure differ among the individual victims of the same multiple-fatality incident. Third, most multiple-fatality incidents involve workers in the same or similar industries and occupations. Finally, multiple-fatality incidents are a unique phenomenon: in most major respects, the fatal events or exposures underlying the circumstances under which they occur and the kinds of jobs in which they are most prevalent often do not reflect the fatal injury experience as a whole."