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December 17, 1997

Washington workplace safety and health about the same in 1996

TUMWATER - Washington workplaces were marginally safer in 1996 than the previous year, dropping the state's worker injury and illness rate to its lowest level in years, according to a survey released today by Department of Labor & Industries Director Gary Moore.

But overall, Washington workers still suffer job-related injuries and illnesses at a higher rate than the national average.

The survey shows that 10 out of every 100 full-time workers in Washington suffered a job-related injury or illness in 1996. And four of those injured or ill workers required time off from work as a result. Both of these numbers exceed the national average.

The numbers are even less encouraging for some high-hazard industries. For instance in the construction industry, 17 of every 100 workers were injured or became ill as a result of their workplace. Roofers in Washington were injured or became ill at the rate of 36 workers per 100.

In shipbuilding, 56 of every 100 workers were injured or became ill in 1996. In other words, workers who build ships are more likely than not to be injured. Also, half of those injured or ill workers lost time from work as a result.

"We can't really put our fingers on the exact reason why Washington's rate is higher than the national average," Moore said, "but we'll be continuing our joint efforts with labor and management to solve this mystery.

"Our challenge and goal is one in the same," Moore added. "We intend to reduce Washington's injury and illness rate below the national average. And we'll step up our joint efforts with the business and labor communities to identify opportunities for improvement.

"The first meeting of the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) Advisory Committee is tomorrow, and I look forward to that committee's assistance in meeting the immediate challenge of bringing these rates down below national averages," Moore said.

That represents an fairly ambitious goal, according to Moore, but he pointed out that the survey also contained some nuggets of encouragement.

"Manufacturing, historically one of the top three hazardous segments of our economy, is showing us that we can get these numbers headed in the right direction," the director pointed out.

In 1996, manufacturing provided significant gains as workers registered a 6.4 percent decrease in the injury and illness rate. That improvement resulted in the fewest number of workers (per 100) injured in a decade. And of those manufacturing workers injured on the job, less than six required time off from work. That's the lowest rate for manufacturing since the survey was instituted in 1972.

"These numbers demonstrate that we - business, labor and government - are making some progress in creating safer and more healthful workplaces," Moore said. "But we can do more. And that's why my staff and I have designated saving lives and preventing injuries and illness as one of four major priorities for L&I."

Overall, the rate of injured or ill workers requiring time off from work declined more than 9 percent in 1996 - also the lowest rate since the survey was initiated.

Once again the construction industry accounted for the highest incident rate. In 1996, 17.6 out of every 100 full-time workers suffered a job-related injury or illness. That was down from the 18.2 recorded in 1995. The industry breakdown:

Industry 1996 1995
Construction 17.6 18.2
Manufacturing 13.2 14.1
Agriculture, forestry and fishing 12.2 12.3
Retail trade 10.6 10.6
Transportation and public utilities 10.2 10.3
Wholesale trade 10.0 10.1
Services 8.1 7.8
State and local government 7.9 5.6
Mining 5.7 5.6
Finance, insurance and real estate 2.8 3.2

Another breakdown of the numbers shows that those businesses employing between 50 and 249 employees had the highest injury and illness incident rates. The breakdown:

Year 1-10 11-49 50-249 250-999 1000 plus
1996 8.2 10.2 11.6 9.9 8.7
1995 7.5 10.5 11.9 10.4 8.5

The numbers, the most current available, were provided through a survey of approximately 6,500 randomly selected Washington employers in cooperation with the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.


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