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Aug. 12, 1998

Fewer Washington workers died on the job in 1997 – Still too many

TUMWATER – The number of Washington workers who died from job-related injuries dropped in 1997 when 112 workers suffered fatal workplace accidents, a 12.5 percent decrease from the 1996 toll, according to the Department of Labor & Industries.

But L&I officials said the number of fatal accidents in 1997 remains unacceptable.

"Yes, the number came down in 1997," said L&I Director Gary Moore, "but the fact is that, on average, every three days a worker dies somewhere in Washington. Twice a week, a wife becomes a widow, a child loses a mother or some loved family member fails to return home at the end of the work day. That is unacceptable, and I know that working together, business, labor and government can do better."

Moore pointed out that although the 1997 death rate was down, the number of Washington workers killed on the job is consistently more than 100, year in and year out. And even though Washington’s rate is slightly lower than the national average, it’s still too high, he said.

Even more troublesome, Moore noted, is that although the state’s injury and rates have started coming down slightly over recent years, the fatality rate is holding steady in the same range. There is one bright bit of news: construction fatalities dropped from 23 in 1996 to 13 in 1997.

"Our challenge now," Moore said, "will be to maintain and even improve on this encouraging trend, and replicate it across our other high-hazard industries."

One new tool to help L&I accomplish this goal will be the recently convened Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) Advisory Committee, Moore said. The committee, comprised of labor and business representatives, was recently formulated at the direction of the Legislature to help the agency improve occupational safety and health across the state.

The 1997 statistics show that Washington continued a historical trend with nearly half of the fatalities resulting from transportation accidents. A total of 52 workers died in transportation-related accidents, although only about half of that number involved highway accidents.

And not surprisingly, the high-hazard industries of construction, manufacturing and agriculture accounted for more than half of the fatalities. Moore said this is discouraging for a couple of reasons, including the fact that the hazards in these industries are well documented, and "we know how to protect workers from these hazards."

Another troubling trend, Moore noted, was the 16 government workers who died as a result of job-related injuries. This represents the highest number of public sector fatalities since the study was initiated in 1991, up sharply from the 10 who died in 1996. Ironically, he said, these deaths often occurred while the workers were attempting to ensure the safety of others. They included the deaths of three U. S. Coast Guard members off the Washington coast, and the rescue crew that died in a helicopter crash while searching for a lost hiker in the Olympic Mountains.

Moore pointed out that workplace violence in 1997 accounted for 15 fatalities, continuing a rising trend. These assaults and violent acts primarily occur at worksites where workers are providing services for clients and patients, or situations where money is exchanged.

The data were compiled by the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program, a cooperative effort between the L&I and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor statistics. The data not only include the workplace fatalities investigated by L&I’s under authority of the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act, but also workplace fatalities investigated by the Washington State Patrol, local police departments, the U.S. Coast Guard, federal Department of Energy, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Workplace fatalities by industrial categories:

1997

1996

Agriculture, forestry & fishing 23 21
Construction 13 23
Manufacturing 23 24
Transportation & public utilities 13 14
Wholesale trade 6 6
Retail trade 8 8
Finance, real estate 1 1
Services 9 21
Government 16 10
Total 112 128

More information on Washington fatalities

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