California employers have performed a noteworthy juggling act: boosting staffing while lowering on-the-job deaths and injuries.
The latest workplace safety statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that as bosses statewide pushed employment above pre-recession highs in 2016, workplace deaths fell. Meanwhile, deaths on the job nationally rose to an eight-year high. Worker injuries fell both in the state and nationally that year.
Please note that on-the-job fatality and injury rates vary among states for numerous reasons — from the type of work commonly done (goods-producing industries, such as construction or factory jobs, are deadlier) to the level of economic activity (more employment, more chances for accidents) to violent crime patterns (yes, folks are murdered at work.) Plus, workplace safety advancements and the amount of regulation are factors in fatality patterns, too.
Here are four trends in workplace safety you should know …
1. How California ranks
Worker deaths may be just one measure of how safe one feels at work, but they’re an eye-catching benchmark.
And California had the fourth lowest rate of workplace fatalities in the nation in 2015-16, federal stats show.
In 2016, 376 Californians died on the job, down 12 from 2015. Yes, that’s the nation’s second-highest count of fatalities. But to fairly compare states, one must account for California’s status as the nation’s biggest jobs engine. So, workplace safety experts also track accidents on a per-capita basis.
That means fatal workplace injuries occurred in California at an average rate of 2.2 deaths for every 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2015-16. Only three other places fared better in the nation in this deaths-to-worker ratio.
No. 1 was Rhode Island at 1.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers. The District of Columbia was second with 1.9 fatalities per 100,000. Third was Connecticut at 2.1 fatalities per 100,000. Right behind California was a tie between Delaware and Washington at 2.25 fatalities per 100,000.
The mix of a state’s jobs is a factor. Ponder the key industries in the 10 states with the highest fatality rates: 20 percent of their private industry workers are in goods-producing jobs such as manufacturing and building trades. The 10 states with the lowest fatality rates had just 14 percent of workers in those more dangerous jobs.
Also, you’ll see regions with concentrations of energy production, another dangerous trade, among the highest fatality rates.
Tops for 2015-16 was Wyoming, 12.15 per 100,000 workers with 34 deaths in 2016, same as 2015. Next was North Dakota (9.75 per 100,000), then Montana (7.7 per 100,000) and Alaska (7.35 per 100,000). No. 5 was Mississippi at 6.55 per 100,000.
PS: The state with the most workplace deaths in 2016 was Texas with 545, up 18 vs. 2015. Its fatality rate of 4.45 per 100,000 ranked it 23rd best and was double California’s rate. Curiously, Texas doesn’t have a lot more goods-producing work than California, with 18 percent of its jobs in those riskier industries vs. 16.8 percent in California.
2. National uptick
Nationally, it was a different picture with 5,190 workers dying on the job in 2016. That’s up 354 fatalities or 7 percent.
It’s the third annual increase in a row and the highest number of deaths since 2008.
Sadly, drug and alcohol overdoses claimed 217 U.S. workers on the job in 2016, up 52 or 31 percent from 2015. U.S. occupations with large increases in deaths in 2016 included transportation and material moving, food preparation, installation, maintenance, repair occupations, grounds cleaning and sales.
Of note: U.S. protective services workers — from police to ski patrol to crossing guards — saw deaths nationwide rise in 2016 by 68, a 32 percent jump, to 281.
3. SoCal fatalities dip
Workplace fatalities in the six-county Southern California region dipped slightly in 2016.
The federal report shows 180 workplace deaths in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties in 2016. That’s down from 183 in 2015 as regional fatalities have remained under 200 since 2010. On-the-job deaths have averaged 236 a year from 2005 through 2009.
The moderate rate of local deaths is the result of a move toward more workers in safer office work as staffing levels in more dangerous jobs sit below historic levels. Within Southern California, here are 2016’s fatality patterns:
Los Angeles and Orange counties: The region’s only increase, up 13 deaths (14 percent) to 109. That’s the highest since 2011.
Riverside and San Bernardino counties: 46 in 2016, down 4, or 8 percent. That’s three deaths below the 2016-2005 average.
San Diego County: 19 in 2016, down 11, or 37 percent. That’s lowest since at least 2005.
Ventura County: 6 in 2016, down 1, or 14 percent. That’s the lowest since 2009.
4. Injuries also down
Federal estimates show 466,000 non-fatal injuries in 2016 at private and government workplaces in California, down from 471,000 in 2015.
While this is up from a mid-recession low of 441,000 — fewer workers, fewer chances for injuries — the most-recent result is far below 694,000 in 2002.
Nationwide, 2.9 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported by private industry employers in 2016, down 48,500 in a year.
What’s the typical California injury at work? Well, according to the state’s analysis of 2016 federal non-fatal workplace injury data …
Most likely hurt: Male, age 45 to 54, with the company 5-plus years.
Riskiest industries: The agriculture-mining-logging category and construction.
Most common cause: “Overexertion and bodily reaction” then “contact with object, equipment.”
Most frequent injury: Sprains, strains, and tears followed by soreness and pain.
Body parts most often hurt: Upper extremities, then the trunk.
Please note that California injuries at private employers occur at a higher per-worker rate than the average rate — 3.3 per 100 full-time positions private-industry vs. 2.9 nationwide — and 17th worst overall.
Still, it’s less likely a Californian gets hurt at work than around the turn of the century: The state’s injury rate has fallen consistently since 2002; the U.S. rate is down every year but one since 2004.
DID YOU SEE …
Southern California population grows at fastest pace since 2014
Southern California housing takes nation’s largest bite of local paychecks
Southern California homes overvalued? Appraisers suggest yes
What bums out employees at Orange County’s top workplaces
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