Alaska worker deaths drop by 50 percent in '90s

Posted: Tuesday, July 02, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Worker deaths in Alaska declined by about 50 percent during the 1990s. But with a death rate triple the national average, Alaska remains the most dangerous place to work in the nation, according to a study released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report, ''Surveillance and Prevention of Occupational Injuries in Alaska: A Decade of Progress, 1990-1999,'' was prepared by the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health office in Anchorage. The office was established in the late 1980s to target an Alaska worker death rate, which was then five times the national average.

Across the country, there were seven deaths per 100,000 workers annually during the 1980s. That rate dropped to 4.3 per 100,000 by 1995.

In Alaska, worker deaths declined from 34.8 per 100,000 annually in the 1980s to 17 per 100,000 annually in the 1990s. In 1999, the most recent year for which published figures are available, the Alaska average had dropped to 13.4 deaths per 100,000 workers.

George Conway, director of the national institute safety office in Anchorage and an author of the CDC study, said progress came on all fronts but most especially in commercial fishing.

''It's been a huge success story. We've gone from 34 deaths per year down to 11'' on average,'' Conway said.

Cold-water survival suits, a shift to individual fishing quotas that allowed boat skippers discretion to fish another day rather than in bad weather, and other changes contributed to reduced fishing deaths. There has been no decline in man-overboard accidents. What's changed is that a fisherman in the water is now more likely to survive until recovered.

Deborah Choromanski, manager for the state Occupational Injury Prevention program, said Monday that she had not yet seen the report but agreed much remains to be done to improve worker safety in Alaska.

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