A new survey released by the Division of Labor Statistics and Research has revealed shifting dynamics in workplace fatalities in California during 1994.
Two items are positive news stand out. First, the total number of workplace fatalities in California declined last year. Second, assaults and other violent acts did not account for the leading cause of workplace fatalities, as they did in 1993.
Last year, 601 workers died on-the-job in California. That total compares with 657 fatalities during 1993.
DLSR's annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries is conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. It identifies incidents involving workplace fatalities from several sources, including Cal/OSHA and federal OSHA reports, law enforcement information, workers' compensation claims, coroner's reports, and even news reports. The census identifies, verifies, and profiles workplace fatalities involving all employees in the private sector, self-employed individuals, and civilian and military government employees.
Transportation accidents represented the leading cause of workplace fatalities in 1994. Of the 601 fatalities recorded, 222 deaths, or 36.9 percent, were related to transportation accidents, which include highway accidents, pedestrians struck by vehicles or equipment, and accidents involving aircraft, boats, or railways.
Assaults and violent acts accounted for the second-leading cause of workplace fatalities. In California, 185 workers died from such events last year, representing 30.8 percent of workplace fatalities. In 1993, assaults and violent acts in the workplace killed 245 workers, or 37.3 percent of workers killed on the job.
More specifically, the 185 deaths from assaults and violent acts consisted of 156 homicides, 25 incidents of fatal self-inflicted injury, and four assaults by animals.
Other causes of workplace fatalities included falls, 71 or 11.8 percent; contact with objects and equipment (struck by falling object, caught in equipment or collapsing structure or materials), 62 or 10.3 percent; exposure to harmful substances or environments (electrocution, noxious substances, drowning), 44 or 7.3 percent; and fires and explosions, 14 or 2.3 percent. Three other fatalities were identified and included in the total, but sufficient information is not yet available to classify the precise circumstances.
Among occupational groups, operators, fabricators, and laborers had the greatest number of fatalities, with 152, or 25.3 percent. Technical, sales, and administrative support, followed with 112 or 18.6 percent. Other occupational groups were precision production, craft, and repair, 87 fatalities or 14.5 percent; managerial and professional specialty occupations, 75 or 12.5 percent; farming, forestry, and fishing occupations, 76 or 12.6 percent; service occupations, 71 or 11.8 percent; and military occupations, 23 or 3.8 percent.
1994's workplace fatalities occurred largely in the private sector, which accounted for 532 fatalities, or 88.5 percent. The remaining 69 fatalities occurred in the public sector.
Among the private industry sector, more fatalities occurred in the services industry, which experienced 103 fatalities, or 17.1 percent of the total. The totals by other industry groups were retail trade, 96 or 16 percent; transportation and public utilities, 90 or 15 percent; agriculture, forestry, and fishing, 75 or 12.5 percent; construction, 68 or 11.3 percent; manufacturing, 56 or 9.3 percent; wholesale trade, 20 or 3.3 percent; finance, insurance, and real estate, 11 or 1.8 percent; and mining, 8 or 1.3 percent.
The most significant news in the 1994 census is the decrease in fatalities from assaults and violent acts. Last year, a series of shocking and attention-grabbing events focused attention on the problem of workplace security. The 1993 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries reflected the phenomenon of workplace violence, as assaults and violent acts represented the leading cause of workplace fatalities in California for the first time. National figures recorded the same phenomenon.
Workplace violence represents one of the most vexing occupational safety and health problems in that it is one of the most difficult hazards to control because harmful agents mostly come from outside of the workplace. Other types of accidents, such as transportation accidents, contact with objects and equipment, falls, and exposure to substances, involve internal hazards and, in most cases, are either preventable or the likelihood of an accident can be greatly reduced.
The declining number of workplace fatalities related to violence coincides with California taking the lead on tackling the problem through its Cal/OSHA program. Last year, Cal/OSHA conducted two first-of-their-kinds conferences on workplace security. The events in San Francisco and Los Angeles each attracted several hundred guests, as experts representing employers, labor, law enforcement, and security professionals shared information and ideas for preventing workplace violence.
As a result of the conferences, Cal/OSHA developed its Guidelines for Workplace Security.While not mandatory for employers, these guidelines provided recommendations for prevention of violent incidents.
For a copy of the 1994 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (link no longer valid), please write to the Division of Labor Statistics and Research, P.O. Box 420603, San Francisco, California 94142-0603 or call (415) 703-3451.
For a copy of the Cal/OSHA Guidelines for Workplace Security, please write to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, P.O. Box 420603, San Francisco, California 94142-0603 or call (415) 703-4341.