Deaths at work rise slightly last year

Posted: Thursday, October 07, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Workplace fatalities in the United States rose slightly to 5,559 last year, with the highest number of deaths in the construction and transportation industries. Hispanic workers continued to have the highest on-the-job death rate, the Labor Department said.

In 2002, 5,534 people died on the job -- the lowest total since the survey began in 1992. The death rate came to four deaths a year per 100,000 workers in 2002 and 2003.

''American workers remain safer than they were just a few years ago,'' said John Henshaw, assistant labor secretary for Occupational Safety and Health.

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.

Some 861 truck drivers died on the job last year, more than in any occupation. But logging workers had the highest death rate, with 131.6 per 100,000. Pilots and flight engineers were second, with a rate of 97.4 deaths. The rate for truck drivers was 26.7.

''Transportation is a dangerous job,'' said Bret Caldwell, spokesman for the Teamsters union, which represents truck drivers and other workers in the warehouse, parcel and freight industries.

He criticized the Bush administration for pursuing ''unsafe policies,'' including an effort to increase the time that drivers can work -- one hour more, to 11 straight hours, and a maximum of 77 hours over seven days, a 17-hour increase.

The rules were imposed in December and struck down in court. They also required drivers to take at least 10 hours off between shifts, two more than before, and reduced the maximum work day from 15 hours to 14.

The union also opposes an administration plan for a two-year exemption from U.S. safety standards for foreign-built trucks that have previously entered the United States. The move is aimed at opening U.S. roads to Mexican trucks as part of a free trade pact with Mexico and Canada.

The report said the second most-frequent work deaths were falls, with 691 last year, compared with 719 in 2002. Homicides followed, with 631 in 2003 -- an increase from 609 the year before. Still, workplace murders were down from a high of 1,080 in 1994.

Stress and anxiety about layoffs, the transfer of jobs abroad and terrorist attacks are making the workplace more volatile, said Paul Viollis, president of Risk Control Strategies, a risk assessment security company.

On Monday, an unarmed security guard was shot and killed at the Illinois Statehouse.

''We need to do a much better job in the United States of providing a safe work environment,'' Viollis said, such as employers mandating training and safety policies.

Hispanic workers died on the job more frequently than others, with a rate of 4.5 deaths per 100,000. Last year, 791 Hispanic workers were killed at work. Whites had a rate of 4.0 deaths per 100,000 and for blacks, 3.7, the Labor Department said.

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