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Workplace Fatalities Decrease with Recession

Work can be a dangerous place. But, it’s getting safer. That’s according to a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which found workplace fatalities were down 16 percent in 2009, to 4,340 fatal work injuries.

The 2009 total represents the smallest annual preliminary total since the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program was first conducted in 1992, according to the report. Based on this preliminary count, the rate of fatal work injuries for U.S. workers in 2009 was 3.3 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, down from a final rate of 3.7 in 2008.

The report states economic factors played a major role in the fatal work injury decrease in 2009.  Total hours worked fell by 6 percent in 2009 following a 1 percent decline in 2008. Additionally, industries that have historically accounted for a significant share of fatal work injuries, such as construction, experienced even larger declines in employment or hours worked.

Transportation incidents, which accounted for nearly two-fifths of all the fatal work injuries in 2009, were the most common cause of workplace deaths, but fell 21 percent from the 2,130 fatal work injuries reported in 2008 to 1,683 deaths in 2009. Transportation incidents include: Highway incidents, workers struck by vehicle or mobile equipment, aircraft incidents and non-highway incidents such as tractor overturns.

In spite of several recent high profile workplace shootings, workplace homicides declined 1 percent in 2009 to 521 cases. This represents a decline of nearly 50 percent from the high of 1,080 homicides reported in 1994.  There were 263 cases of workplace suicides in 2009.

Construction workers incurred the most fatal injuries of any industry in the private sector in 2009, though they were down by 16 percent from 2008. Economic conditions may explain much of this decline, the report concludes.