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Fatal workplace accidents continue to increase

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has just released its annual report on workplace fatalities and it contains some distressing news: workplace fatalities continue to their upward trend. In 2016, a total of 5,190 workers died from injuries suffered in the workplace. That's up from 4,836 fatalities in 2015, and represents an increase of 7.3 percent.

In Colorado, 81 workers were killed while working in 2016, versus 75 in 2015.

These numbers include only those who suffered fatal injuries in accidents, and don't include workers who died because of occupational illnesses.

The most dangerous occupations

Truck and commercial drivers suffered the most casualties in 2016. Last year, 918 drivers lost their lives in road accidents. Other occupations with high numbers of workplace fatalities are:

Farmers, ranchers and ag workers                 260

Grounds maintenance workers                      217

First-line construction supervisors                 134

Roofers                                                    110

But adjusting for the number of workers in each occupation tells a slightly different story. In 2016, the fatal injury rate per 100,000 workers was:

Logging                                                      135.9

Fishers and related workers                             86.0

Aircraft pilots and flight engineers                     55.5

Roofers                                                        48.6

Will workplace fatalities go up in 2017?

The frequency of workplace fatalities definitely correlates with the level of economic activity. The number of fatalities actually peaked out in 2006 at 5,840 and then declined to a 14 year low in 2009. Since then, the fatality rate has steadily increased each year.

It will be another year before the workplace fatality report for 2017 will be released. But given the strong economy, the number of workplace fatalities will almost certainly show an increase in 2017 - and will probably continue on an upward trajectory in 2018.

What can be done?

Reducing the number of workplace fatalities requires concerted efforts by workers, employers, unions, and federal and state regulatory agencies.

Workers can do their part by always following safety procedures, including the wearing of protective gear. They should also speak up when they see safety hazards in the workplace.

Dependents of workers who have been killed in workplace accidents may be eligible for workers' compensation death benefits. They may also be able to claim additional compensation from negligent third parties through a separate lawsuit. Family members of fatal workplace accident victims should speak with an attorney experienced in handling workers' compensation cases as soon as possible.

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