Itasca, IL – The National Safety Council recently expressed its alarm at a 2% rise in total worker deaths – 5,333 fatal workplace injuries in 2019 compared to 5,250 in 2018 – according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Despite the fact that the rate of death has not changed from 2017, this is the highest number of workplace deaths since 2007. Even more alarming is that these are pre-pandemic figures: 2020 data could be far bleaker given COVID-19’s impact on workplace safety.
Additional notable changes included increases in the number of deaths from unintentional overdose and motor vehicle crashes. Unintentional overdoses in the workplace increased for the seventh consecutive year to 313 in 2019 – a 2% increase from 2018. The BLS data indicate that transportation incidents increased 2 percent in 2019 to 2,122 cases, the most cases since this series began in 2011. Roadway trends have continued to be disturbing in 2020, according to NSC preliminary data.
Falls, slips, and trips – a persistent killer in the workplace – increased 11 percent in 2019 to 880.
Fatalities should never be the cost of doing business. Employers need a systematic approach to safety that includes having policies, training and risk assessment techniques in place to address major causes of fatalities and injuries. Leadership needs to set the tone from the top and engage all workers in safety, identify hazards and measure safety performance using leading indicators to continuously improve.
COVID-19 continues to be the single most significant workplace safety challenge in a century. NSC notes the guidance recently releasedfrom the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to help employers address vaccines effectively – a move NSC called for when the FDA approved the first vaccine on Dec. 11. As we wait for widespread availability of the vaccine, we urge employers not to let their guard down on the proven countermeasures to spreading COVID-19, including mask wearing, proper hygiene, physical distancing measures, and remote working conditions for employees who do not need to be physically present at job sites.
The National Safety Council provides resources to assist employers in improving workplace safety. These include COVID-19 resources through the SAFER initiative, NSC membership offerings, workplace training, consulting services, employee perception surveys and the Work to Zero initiative. Free NSC toolkits include the Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit, Fatigue at Work Employer Toolkit and Safe Driving Toolkit. The Campbell Institute at the Council also provides helpful research such as “Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention: Perspectives and Practices.” Employers can join the Road to Zero coalition and use driver safety training to help end roadway fatalities.