Workplace Deaths Decline, but Suicides on the Rise

A report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that workplace-related fatalities fell by 10 percent in 2008. Last year there were 5,071 fatal work injuries in the U.S., down from 5,657 deaths in 2007. The new fatality figure represents the smallest total since the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries program was initiated in 1992. The new rate is 3.6 fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time workers, down from 4 fatal work injuries per 100,000 last year.

The construction industry saw a 20 percent decline in fatalities, though it remains the most dangerous sector to work in. Fatal workplace falls in all industries also saw a decrease of 20 percent. Workplace homicides fell by 18 percent.

There is, however, a disturbing increase in workplace suicides, which were up 28 percent from last year. Overall, 251 cases were reported in 2008, up from 196 cases in 2007. The 2008 workplace suicide total is the highest number ever reported by the fatality census.

What is the change in all these figures attributable to? The BLS points to the economy.

Average hours worked nationally fell by one percent last year, with some industries that have historically seen a large share of worker fatalities, such as construction, experiencing even larger declines in employment and hours worked. And of course, stories of mass layoffs in every sector of the economy have become commonplace, so it’s not hard to see how this could affect workplace fatality figures.

The BLS also points to government spending cutbacks as possibly limiting or delaying the reporting of these statistics by government agencies. So the 2008 numbers are largely attributable to declining employment and the ineptness of government bureaucracy.

What are you seeing at your facilities? Are there fewer workplace accidents? If so, perhaps this is one of the few good things to come out of this recession.