Increased Workplace Fatalities Raise Concerns

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

February 7, 2018

A 2017 report on fatal workplace injuries shows that fatalities jumped 7 percent in 2016. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of 2016 Fatal Occupational Injuries reported 5,190 workplace fatalities in 2016, compared to 4,836 in 2015. It also noted an increase in deaths related to opioid use.

Among the report's findings are:

  • Overdoses from the non-medical use of drugs or alcohol while on the job increased 32 percent;
  • Deaths among workers aged 55 or older increased 9.9 percent;
  • Deaths among African-American increased 18.6 percent;
  • Deaths among Hispanic or Latino workers decreased 18.6 percent;
  • Deaths among Asian workers increased 40.4 percent;
  • Transportation incidents remained the most common fatal event, totaling 2,083 deaths;
  • Fall, slip and trip deaths increased 6 percent, totaling 849 deaths; and
  • Homicides increased 19.9 percent, totaling 500 deaths.

This marks the fourth consecutive year that fatalities have increased, and the first time since 2008 that workplace deaths exceeded 5000. In the case of an employee's death, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires the employer to report the incident to the agency within eight hours.

The report is one of several items that has raised concerns about the direction of workplace safety.

An NBC news report found that OSHA lost 40 inspectors through attrition since the beginning of the Trump administration, and has not brought on new hires to fill the vacancies. The agency also is currently operating with without a chief. President Trump's nominee for Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, Scott Mugno, must be reconsidered since he was not confirmed by the full Senate before the end of last year's term.

OSHA also has rolled back regulations issued during the Obama administration that required the federal agency to disclose the names of workers and the circumstances of their deaths. Instead of publishing the information for each incident, OSHA now discloses only fatalities that result in a citation in states and territories where the agency directly regulates, leaving deaths out of the federal public record in the 26 states that self-regulate.

In addition, the deadline for complying with a regulation that requires employers to file injury and illness information from OSHA Forms 300, 300A and 301 electronically was delayed twice. The new requirements was to start data submissions beginning in August 2017, but employers eventually were allowed to file as late as December 31, 2017, without penalty.