Editor’s Notes: Death on the Job

Fatalities From Falls Continue to Rise









It seems like the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries later every year, and once again, they held true to form. Their 2017 report was released in December 2018, and you’re reading this in January 2019, so the figures presented here are a year out of date. In this age of instant access and information overload, it’s refreshing to see our federal bureaucracies are still operating slower than a herd of snails traveling through peanut butter. There is no threat of overwork or job stress here. Nonetheless, these figures are as current as it’s going to get for another year.

I understand that a death on the job is not a pleasant subject, and I know of several contractors who have gone through this terrible experience. Even one death is a tragedy, and I’m not making light of the situation, but merely presenting the numbers as compiled by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There were a total of 5,147 fatal work injuries recorded in the United States in 2017, down slightly from the 5,190 fatal injuries reported during the previous year. While this small decrease may not seem noteworthy, the economy was improving during that time and there were more people employed. The fact that job fatalities went down makes the figures more impressive. The only guaranteed way to reduce this number to zero fatalities is for everyone to be out of work.

By far, the most dangerous industry is, was, and will probably continue to be, highway transportation, accounting for 2,077 transportation-related deaths in 2017, or 40% of the total. Highway deaths have topped the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics list for as long as they’ve been keeping track using their current system, and this isn’t likely to change.

Construction deaths accounted for 965 of the total fatalities in 2017, of which 91 were roof workers. This is a rate of 48.6 deaths per 100,000, and the fourth highest rate for all civilian occupations. Higher per 100,000 fatality rates were recorded by the fishing industry, logging, and aircraft pilots respectively.

Fall fatalities, including from ladders, scaffolds, roofs, or through openings, numbered 887, or 17%, of all worker deaths in 2017, which was the highest level in the 26-year history of the census. Falls continue to account for the vast majority of on-the-job fatalities and the total has steadily increased each year, without fail, for the past decade. This is the reason OSHA is on your case regarding ladder safety.

A total of 27 states had fewer fatal workplace injuries for 2017, 21 states and Washington D.C. had more, and California and Maine had the same number as the previous year. Texas holds the dubious honor of the most job fatalities with 534, with California a distant second at 376.