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The number of fatal work injuries in the United States dropped slightly last year, but fatal falls and drug overdoses in the workplace remain a serious concern, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A total of 5,147 fatal work injuries were recorded in the U.S. in 2017, down 0.8% from the 5,190 fatal injuries reported in 2016, marking the second consecutive year that workplace deaths surpassed the 5,000 incident mark, according to the BLS data released on Tuesday.
The fatal injury rate decreased to 3.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers from 3.6 in 2016, according to the BLS.
Fatal falls were at their highest level in the 26-year history of the BLS’s census of fatal occupational injuries, accounting for 17.2% of employee deaths, while transportation incidents remained the most frequent fatal event last year with 2,077, or 40.4%, of fatal incidents, according to the BLS.
Violence and other injuries by persons or animals decreased 6.8% to 807 fatalities in 2017 with homicides and suicides decreasing 7.4% and 5.5%, respectively. But unintentional overdoses due to nonmedical use of drugs or alcohol while at work increased 25.3% to 272 deaths in 2017, marking the fifth consecutive year in which unintentional workplace overdose deaths have increased at least 25%, according to the BLS.
Contact with objects and equipment incidents were down 8.7% to 695 fatal incidents last year, with caught in running equipment or machinery deaths down 26.2% to 76 deaths, according to the BLS data. Fatal occupational injuries involving confined spaces rose 15.2% to 166 in 2017 while crane-related workplace fatalities fell to their lowest level ever recorded in the census at 33 deaths.
In 2017, 15.1% of fatally injured workers were age 65 or over – a series high, according to BLS. In 1992, the first year the census published national data, that figure was 8%. These workers also had a higher fatality rate than other age groups at 10.3 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2017.
The number of deaths among Hispanic or Latino workers – an employee population disproportionately vulnerable to workplace injuries and illnesses – rose 2.7% to 903 in 2017, although the fatality rate for this demographic group remained steady at 3.7 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2017.
A total of 27 states had fewer fatal workplace injuries in 2017 than 2016, while 21 states and the District of Columbia had more workplace deaths and California and Maine had the same number of fatalities as 2016, according to BLS.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration must take steps to prevent underreporting of fatalities and injuries and ensure employers correct identified hazards, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General.