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Inadequate training for more experienced workers likely contributed to a 17.8% increase in fatalities among older workers, sources said.
There were 656 fatalities among workers 65 and older in 2014 compared with 557 in 2013, according to preliminary data the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released last week.
According to the data, there were 4,679 fatal work-related injuries recorded in 2014, up 2.0% from the revised 4,585 in 2013 (see chart).
With older workers, “there's an assumption when you come into a position that you're worldly, you've been around, maybe you've worked most of your life,” said Woody Hill, Austin, Texas-based vice president of safety services at workers compensation insurer Texas Mutual Insurance Co. But employers need to continually train their entire workforce — not just new hires — about hazards, processes and procedures, he said.
According to the bureau, more than 260 fatalities last year involving workers 65 and older resulted from transportation incidents, including the oil and gas industry.
“Older individuals are going into more hazardous work where there are better pay grades,” Mr. Hill said. “Oil and gas is a good example of that.”
Transportation and material moving occupations were No. 1 in fatal occupational injuries last year by occupation, and transportation incidents accounted for 40% of all fatal workplace injuries, up 1.4% from 2013.
“The older people get, the less ability they have to do physical work,” said David Barry, Overland Park, Kansas-based senior vice president and national technical director of casualty risk control at Willis North America Inc. “Your body just starts to break down, you're not as strong” and vision isn't as sharp. “Those can definitely be contributing factors that lead to accidents that, unfortunately, are ending in fatalities.”
Meanwhile, fatal work injuries among women also increased last year, rising 12.5% to 359, according to the bureau's data.
“Women sometimes aren't provided with as much training as men, or they aren't taken as seriously,” said Carol Schmeidler, manager of general safety and industrial hygiene programs at the department of environmental health and safety at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Of the fatalities among women, 137 resulted from transportation incidents.
“Year after year, driving a vehicle has been the most dangerous thing you can do at work,” Mr. Barry said, noting that more women are taking positions in the transportation industry.
“As more women enter the workforce in industrial-type jobs in higher-risk industries, they maybe don't have (years of) experience to rely on like some of their male counterparts,” he said. “Employers really need to take that into (consideration) and make sure they provide adequate training and safety measures to keep everybody safe.”
In addition, 111 of the fatalities among women last year resulted from violence.
“We're seeing more and more violence coming from personal relationship problems that spill over into work,” Mr. Barry said of the “disturbing trend.”
Fatal workplace accidents fell 16% in California last year, with Hispanic workers seeing a notable decrease in on-the-job deaths, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations.