According to the preliminary Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) fatal occupational injuries findings released Aug. 20, 5,071 fatal work injuries occurred in 2008, representing a 10 percent decline from the 5,657 fatal injuries recorded in 2007.
Based on these findings, the rate of fatal injury for U.S. workers in 2008 was 3.6 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, compared to the final rate of 4.0 in 2007. The number of fatal injuries in 2008 fatal injuries represents the smallest annual preliminary total since the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program was first conducted in 1992, BLS said.
“While the decrease in the number of fatal work injuries represents change in the right direction, it does not lessen the need for strong enforcement to ensure that safety is a top priority in every workplace,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. “In fact, [the] report prompts us to step up our vigilance, particularly as the economy regains momentum.”
According to BLS, economic factors may have played a role in the fatality decrease. Average hours worked at the national level fell by 1 percent in 2008, and some industries that historically accounted for a significant share of fatalities, such as construction, experienced larger declines in employment or hours worked.
In addition, it is possible the economy may have impacted the government agencies that provide source documents used in the compilation of CFOI data. Budget constraints at some of these governmental agencies may have delayed the receipt and processing of the documents that are used by BLS state partners to classify and code CFOI cases. The average net increase in CFOI cases as a result of updates over the past two years has been 153 cases, but the updated 2008 counts scheduled for release in April 2010 have the potential to be larger because of these delays.
Following the release of the BLS findings, American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) President C. Christopher Patton commented that preventing workplace injuries and illnesses costs “far less than correcting them.”
“Companies that invest consistently in safety realize positive bottom line results, reduced absenteeism, lower turnover rates, higher productivity, increased employee morale and a positive brand image,” Patton said. “As illnesses, injuries and fatalities decline so too do health care and workers compensation costs. And intangibly, the relatives, friends and co-workers of those who died or were gravely injured from on-the-job incidents, will probably never overcome the grief of losing a loved one.”
The 2008 CFOI key findings include:
- Fatal work injuries in the private construction sector in 2008 declined by 20 percent from the updated 2007 total, twice the all-worker decline of 10 percent.
- Fatal workplace falls, which had risen to a series high in 2007, also declined by 20 percent in 2008.
- Workplace suicides were up 28 percent to a series high of 251 cases in 2008, but workplace homicides declined 18 percent in 2008.
- The number and rate of fatal work injuries among 16 to 17 year-old workers were higher in 2008.
- Fatal occupational injuries involving Hispanic or Latino workers in 2008 were 17 percent lower than in 2007. Fatalities among non-Hispanic Black or African American workers were down 16 percent.
- The number of fatal workplace injuries in farming, fishing and forestry occupations rose 6 percent in 2008 after declining in 2007.
- Transportation incidents, which accounted for approximately two-fifths of all the workplace fatalities in 2008, fell 13 percent from the previous series low of 2,351 cases reported in 2007.
Solis stressed that the Department of Labor “will not be satisfied until there are no workplace deaths due to failure to comply with safety rules,”
“With every one of these fatalities, the lives of a worker’s family members were shattered and forever changed,” she said. “We can’t forget that fact.”