Work-related deaths increase in 2001

Posted: Friday, December 06, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- While the number of work-related deaths in Alaska declined in the 1990s, the number last year increased for the second year in a row, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

There were 64 work-related deaths in 2001, up from 54 the previous year, and up from a low of 42 in 1999. The increase between 2000 and 2001 amounts to an 18.5 percent increase.

Deborah Hull-Jilly, lead field investigator for the agency's Occupational Injury Prevention Program, blamed last year's increase on two incidents that together killed 25 people -- the sinking of the Arctic Rose fishing vessel in the Bering Sea on April 2 and the crash of a PenAir plane in Dillingham on Oct. 10.

''The multiple events skew the numbers,'' Hull-Jilly said Thursday.

Commercial fishing and aviation continue to be the two areas that keep Alaska in the No. 1 spot nationwide for work-related fatalities, she said.

In the 1980s, Alaska had a rate of about 35 deaths per 100,000 workers -- five times higher than the national average. In the 1990s, the rate fell to just under 22 deaths per 100,000 workers.

If the multiple-death events hadn't occurred, Alaska's rate for 2000 and 2001 would have gone down, Hull-Jilly said.

''I think that tells us we are on the right track,'' she said.

Thirty-nine percent of the work-related deaths last year in Alaska were in commercial fishing. The number of fatalities -- 25 -- was the highest since 1992 when there were 35 fatalities.

Fishing in Alaska is more extreme than in other areas of the country, Hull-Jilly said.

''Our hazard is in the Bering Sea where the weather is harsher, the water is colder,'' she said.

Forty-seven workers died last year from transportation-related injuries, including six pilots or co-pilots. The category represented 73 percent of all work-related deaths. Of those, 26 people died of drowning, and all but one of those deaths involved either a boat or some other type of watercraft.

Other work-related deaths included laborers, executives and managers, and a logger.

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