Those words, issued as part of a statement by U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez on the results of the most recent Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, reflect a stark reality.
Accidents will happen, of course, but many factors that affect safety in the workplace are within our control.
When it recently released its Census of Fatal Occupational Injury data for fiscal 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed that 4,836 fatal workplace injuries occurred that year. Though up only slightly from the 4,821 fatal injuries reported in 2014, it was the highest number since 2008, when there were 5,214 fatal occupational injuries. Other sobering standouts were that there were 903 deaths among Latino workers – the most in any year since 2007, when there 937 fatalities. Road fatalities were up 9 percent from 2014.
Deaths listed as resulting from exposures to electricity dropped in 2015, but fatalities stemming from exposure to temperature extremes rose. Occupational deaths from nonmedical use of drugs or alcohol, unintentional overdose, went up 45 percent in 2015 to 165. There were 136 workers who died in incidents associated with confined spaces in 2015.
Falls to a lower level accounted for 81 percent of all fatal falls. Of the cases where the height of the fall was known, more than 40 percent happened at heights of 15 feet or lower. Fatal falls to a lower level accounted for nearly 40 percent of fatal work injuries in the private construction industry in 2015.
In the full statement on those data, Perez said that “These numbers underscore the urgent need for employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees as the law requires. We have a moral responsibility to make sure that workers who showed up to work today are still alive to punch the clock tomorrow. The fact is, we know how to prevent these deaths. The U.S. Department of Labor is – and will always be – committed to working with employers, workers, community organizations, unions and others to improve safety and health in our nation’s workplaces. This effort is essential to ensuring that no more workers are taken unnecessarily from their families."
It’s worth noting that BLS said the release is the first time that the CFOI has published a single annual release without revisions, adding this will be the only release for 2015 CFOI data. The agency said a similar schedule will be followed in subsequent years, meaning there will be no August or September preliminary releases.