The latest National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (NCFOI), conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reveals a decline in workplace injuries and death between 2008 and 2009. Although the new data seems to imply that workplace safety has increased, some experts, including those at the AFL-CIO, believe that the recession, not improved safety regulations, is the reason for the drop.
In 2008, 5,214 people were injured on the job in the United States; in 2009, that number dropped to 4,340. The number of fatal work injuries among wage earners has also decreased 20 percent during that time, although fatal injuries among the self-employed only dropped 3 percent. Injuries studied in the census include highway incidents, homicides, falls and being struck by an object at work.
Both the NCFOI and the AFL-CIO cite "economic factors" as a significant reason for the decline in workplace injury. Those high risk industries-construction, manufacturing, and transportation, for example-are also the industries that were hardest hit by the recession.
Ideally, no one should be injured while on the job, but accidents are inevitable, especially in high-risk industries. Workplace safety has steadily increased since the adoption of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established in 1970. In that year, 13,800 people died on the job. However, workplace safety still lags behind environmental cases in fines and jail time: Only 84 OSHA cases have been brought to court since 1970, compared to 238 environmental cases brought to court in 2010 alone.
Although workplaces are getting safer, the recession-not safety regulations-are the primary cause. Workers in high-risk industries should be on the look-out for a rise in workplace injuries and deaths as the economy strengthens. If you have been injured while on-the-job, contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney to discuss your options.