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Labor Day: Reflecting on workplace accidents, safety efforts

For many Americans, the just-passed Labor Day might be a holiday like many others, that is, a day off from work without much reflection on the reason underlying the holiday itself.

With Labor Day, though, which was established to honor American workers in all professions and their contributions to the country through its progression from an agrarian society to an industrial powerhouse, there is a strong current of remembrance and associated history.

Just think workplace injuries over the years, and the steadfast efforts of advocates over more than a century to increase workers’ safety. Think construction accidents, where — when combined with mining-related injuries — 760 deaths occurred across the country in 2010, compared with many thousands a century earlier.

The lessening of workplace danger over that span is truly remarkable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”), about 23,000 people died in the United States in 1913 in work-related industrial accidents. Given the nation’s workforce of 38 million at that time, that equated to 60-plus deaths per 100,000 workers.

The BLS notes that 4,547 workers died from work injuries last year. Given today’s population and workforce, that represents a death-rate improvement that is 20 times better than that of 1913.

Still, there is always cause for concern and a need for improvement. More than 600 people died in work-related falls last year. About 600 died from toxic exposure and in explosions.

And the BLS statistics concerning nonfatal job-related injuries are truly eye-opening, with more than three million workplace injuries being reported in just the private sector last year. More than 212,000 workers were injured in falls alone.

Additional information on work-related injuries and fatalities can be found on the OSHA website.

Related Resource: Marin Independent Journal, “Dr. Dustin Ballard: Workplaces are safer but accidents still happen” Sept. 5, 2011