Dying at Work, part two

April 30th, 2004 by

In our previous posting, we presented the findings of a report on workplace fatalities produced by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. There were 81 fatalities in Massachusetts workplaces in 2003, a 65% increase over the prior year. (By the way, the actual fatality number may be higher, as some vehicular fatalities “in the course and scope of employment” may not show up in the data.)

What are the most dangerous activities in the workplace? For most people, the greatest likelihood of dying while working is behind the wheel of a car. But how did workers die in 2003? OSHA investigated 34 of the fatalities in Massachusetts. Here’s how they break down:

Type of injury/total number
Falls from heights – 16
Crushed – 10
Machine induced – 3
electrocution – 2
explosion – 1
Trip and fall – 1
Heart attack (not work related) – 1

Over three quarters of the fatalities involved falls or crushing injuries. Any activities involving heights or heavy objects require constant diligence. Among the 34 fatalities, there were only 2 instances were OSHA did not propose a fine; in two other cases, there were no fines because the victims were self-employed. Clearly, workers died because there were unsafe conditions or unsafe practices on job sites. To be sure, OSHA can cite employers for technical issues unrelated to the actual incident, and in several instances the proposed fines are being appealed, but the bottom line is as simple as it is horrifying. These workers did not have to die.

One injury involved a 16 year old on a summer job. He was killed when the forklift he was driving ran off a ramp and crushed him. Was he certified to operate the equipment? Did he really know what he was doing? If the company could relive that one day, what would they do differently? (In a future posting, we will look at the hazards of summer hiring and provide some tips for keeping summer jobs safe.)
LynchRyan approaches safety from a common sense perspective. We always emphasize the dangers of heights — any heights. Some of these fatal injuries involved falls from ladders and scaffolds; others involved roofs and towers. Most of the these workers were pretty high off the ground, but you don’t have to be far off the ground to suffer severe and even fatal injuries.

We also believe in “good housekeeping” — in keeping job sites as clean and uncluttered as possible. In addition, we recommend that supervisors observe the work being done “with the eyes of a stranger” — as if they’ve never seen this type of work being performed. This way you stay alert to the dangers that lurk in ordinary activities. There can be no complacency where lives are at constant risk.
When we review the statistics for 2004, let’s hope the trends are reversed and headed in the opposite direction from this year. The only acceptable number in a report of workplace fatalities is zero.