It’s heartening to learn that the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2017” report found that overall, the nation lost 43 fewer Americans to workplace fatalities than in 2016. Additionally, the rate of fatalities dropped slightly to 3.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2017, compared to 3.6 in 2016.
In Colorado, workplace deaths fell from 81 in 2016, or 3.0 for every 100,000 workers, to 77, a rate of 2.8.
While this is clearly good news, the data also reveal a more sobering statistic—47% of workers who died in 2017 were employed in the construction and extraction or transportation and material moving occupational groups.
Despite a small decline in workplace deaths among construction workers, the industry still accounted for over 20% of fatalities in 2017. In Colorado, however, construction deaths increased from 12 in 2016 to 19 in 2017, a 58% increase, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
[Related: A risky business—Examining suicide in construction]
Although the BLS “report shows a decline in the number of workplace fatalities, the loss of even one worker is one too many,” Loren Sweatt, acting assistant secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said in a statement. “Through comprehensive enforcement and compliance assistance that includes educating job creators about their responsibilities under the law, and providing robust education opportunities to workers, OSHA is committed to ensuring the health and safety of the American workplace.”
When categorized by incident, the report revealed 887 (17%) workers died in fatal falls, slips or trips during 2017 (2016 saw 849 fall deaths), a new record for the 26-year-old study. Among construction workers, falls accounted for over 39% of workplace deaths. Fatal occupational injuries related to confined spaces were up 15% over 2016 (166 incidents in 2017 and 144 in 2016), and the number of injuries resulting in death due to fires and explosives went from 88 in 2016 to 123 in 2017. Tragically, 40% of all 2017’s work-related deaths can be attributed to transportation incidents, a figure unchanged from the prior year. Indeed, transportation-related accidents ultimately claimed 2,077 workers’ lives over the course of 2017.
Perhaps most disturbing, however, is the appalling rate at which unintentional drug or alcohol overdoses continues to take a toll in the workplace. Largely fueled by the nation’s escalating opioid crisis, on-the-job overdose deaths soared 25% in 2017—taking 272 workers to the grave compared to 217 in 2016—marking the fifth consecutive year that overdose fatalities have increased by at least 25%.
“The scourge of opioid addiction unfortunately continues to take its toll on workers across the country, demonstrating the importance of this Administration’s efforts to tackle the crisis,” posits Sweatt.
On a more positive note, fatalities related to crane operation were at the lowest level recorded by the CFOI in 2017, accounting for a total 33 worker deaths. 2017’s jobsite deaths due to violence or injury from people and animals decreased 7%, incidents involving contact with objects or equipment fell 9%, and 26% fewer workers died after being caught in running equipment or machinery.