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Friday, January 4, 2019

How People are Dying at Work

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on December 18, 2018: a total of 5,147 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2017. Fatal falls as the cause of death were at their highest level in the 26-year history of the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, accounting for 887 (17%) of worker deaths, up over 30% since 2011. This coincides with the Marijuana Greening of America which also produced a crop of safety-sensitive impaired workers. Transportation incidents remained the most frequent fatal event in 2017 with 2,077 (40%) occupational fatalities.

Unintentional overdoses due to non-medical use of drugs or alcohol while at work increased 25% to 272 in 2017. This was the fifth consecutive year in which unintentional workplace drug overdose deaths have increased, and increased by 120% from 2011 to 2017. This appears to be directly linked to the ever-increasing consequences of an opioid addicted America. Other trends show that certain employer safety guards and safety programs are having a major impact:


  • Contact with objects and equipment incidents were down 9% (695 in 2017 from 761 in 2016) 
  • Fatalities caused by being caught in running equipment or machinery were down 26% (76 in 2017 from 103 in 2016)
  • Crane-related workplace fatalities fell to their lowest level ever recorded, 33 deaths in 2017
The transportation and material moving occupational group, and the construction and extraction occupational group accounted for 47% of worker deaths in 2017. Within the occupational subgroup of driver/sales workers and truck drivers, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers had the largest number of fatal occupational injuries with 840. This represented the highest value for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers since the occupational series began in 2003. Fishers and related fishing workers and logging workers had the highest published rates of fatal injury in 2017.


  • Grounds maintenance workers (including first-line supervisors) incurred 244 fatalities in 2017. This was the second-highest total since 2003. Of these numbers, a total of 36 deaths were due to falls from trees, and another 35 were due to being struck by a falling tree or branch.
  • There were 258 fatalities among farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers in 2017. Approximately 63% of these farmers were age 65 and over (162) with 48 being age 80 or over. Of the 258 deaths, 103 involved a farm tractor.
  • Police and sheriff’s patrol officers incurred 95 fatal occupational injuries in 2017, fewer than the 108 fatalities in 2016.
  • The Top 5 states where employees died during 2017 while at work were: Texas (534), California (376), New York (313), Florida (299) and North Carolina (183). In 2017 in Alabama 83 employees died at work, down from 100 in 2016.

Common Sense Counsel: The type of work you do, the State you work in, your employer’s commitment to safety, whether you are impaired at work on Marijuana, Opioids or any other legal or illegal substance, all can cause a fatally bad day. Time for employers to ramp up their drug free workplace programs, get OSHA safety training completed, double check all your safety equipment/guards and get your safety incentives ready to encourage safer behavior. Remember, be safe and send them home Alive!


Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL. He can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901.