As investigators unravel what caused a Texas fertilizer plant explosion last week that killed 14, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that 4,693 workers died on the job in 2011, three more than in 2010.
The fatal injury rate for 2011, the most recent year with complete data, was 3.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. That is down slightly from 2010.
According to the BLS, 1,937 workers died in transportation incidents; 710 through “contact with objects and equipment”; 681 from “falls, slips [and] trips”; and 419 from “exposure to harmful substances or environments.”
“The Texas plant explosion is the kind of catastrophe that really grabs the public’s attention,” said Tom O’Connor, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, an umbrella organization for a network of nonprofit groups around the country. “But that’s about the same number of people who die every day in the U.S., in ways that are much quieter and hidden from public view.”
On average, 13 workers a day are killed on the job in the United States and many more are injured. On April 17, the same day the fertilizer plant blew up in West, Texas, a dozen contract workers were injured when a fire broke out at the ExxonMobil refinery in Beaumont, about 300 miles to the southeast; seven suffered severe burns.
This year, for the first time, the BLS fatality report has a separate category for contract workers, who may not be afforded the same protections as regular employees. Five hundred forty-two died in 2011, the bureau found, accounting for 12 percent of all fatal injuries. Texas had the highest number of contractor deaths – 56 – followed by Florida (51) and California (42).