Workplace deaths fall in Pittsburgh region

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The Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area was a fairly safe place to work in 2011, if workplace fatalities are a guide.

A report issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Thursday showed workplace fatalities in the seven counties of the Pittsburgh region fell by nearly 30 percent, from 41 in 2010 to 29 in 2011, the latest year available.

Workplace fatalities, which included three homicides in 2011, were 21 percent lower than the region's annual average of 37, calculated based on deaths in the region since the federal government started keeping statistics in 2003.

Nationally, 4,609 people died from workplace injuries in 2011, a slight decline from 4,690 in 2010.

In the Pittsburgh region, construction was the most dangerous occupation in 2011 with 10 deaths, or 34 percent of all the workplace fatalities. That was up from four during the previous year.

Two of the deaths in 2011 came in manufacturing, one in a metal fabricating plant and the other in a producer of primary metals. That was down from four deaths in 2010.

PG graphic: Workplace deaths
(Click image for larger version)

Gary Ogg, a Pittsburgh-based personal injury lawyer who represents injured workers and the families of those killed, said the overall low rate in deaths can be attributed to the work of Occupational Health and Safety Administration. OSHA advocates for improvements in workplace safety, such as the use of trench boxes that have protected workers in ditches from often fatal cave-ins.

Workers compensation insurance, Mr. Ogg said, has had a paradoxical effect. While companies get hit with higher premiums from insurance companies if they have a workplace injury or death, they also are protected from a civil lawsuit, somewhat insulating them from the full financial risk, which is absorbed by the insurance companies.

The BLS report also noted eight people were killed on the job in transportation incidents in the Pittsburgh region in 2011. Six were killed in collisions with other vehicles, a cause of death that can cut across occupations.

Seven people died in falls, while another seven were killed by objects or equipment -- three of them struck by an object and another three caught in, struck or crushed by equipment that was collapsing. One worker was caught in equipment that was running.

Out of the 29 people killed at work, all but one were male and more than half were between the ages of 45 and 64.

Among the people who were killed on the job in the Pittsburgh region, two were police officers, one was a security guard, one was a refuse or recycling collector and two were tree trimmers. One bus driver was killed.

When the federal government factors the fatality statistics to determine the danger of occupations, there are two ways to consider the question.

The most dangerous occupation for sheer numbers of people killed would be drivers/sales workers and truck drivers, an occupation in which 759 people across the country were killed, five of them in the Pittsburgh region.

That was almost three times more than the next highest fatality rate: farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers, 260 of whom were killed on the job. Locally, one dairy farmer was killed in 2011.

While a large number of drivers were killed, it was still safer in terms of numbers of people who do it.

Drivers were killed at a rate of 24 for every 100,000 people with the job.

Statistically, workers in the fishing industry are killed at a much higher rate, 121.2 for every 100,000, while logging accidents claimed 102.4 lives for every 100,000 workers. The two occupations combined accounted for 104 workplace deaths.

Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting are lumped together as an industry sector. Combined, they had the highest rate of workplace fatalities in 2011 with 24.4 deaths for every 100,000 workers. As an industry, they accounted for a combined 557 deaths in 2011.

The second-most-dangerous industry based on death rate was mining, which includes oil and gas extraction. There were 15.8 deaths per 100,000 workers in the industry, according to the labor bureau.

Of the 154 workers killed in mining, more than 70 percent, or 110 of those deaths, were in oil or gas extraction. None of them was in the Pittsburgh region in 2011.

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Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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