Guess what?! Here's a great way to prevent death on the job. Lay off all the workers. Then they won't die at work! Wow, yesterday's U.S. Labor Department's annual report on workplace fatalities was a stunner as the number of workplace fatalities plunged, right along with number of people employed. Unless, of course, you had a job, but fell into enough despair to kill yourself. Workplace suicides rose to a series high of 251 in 2008.
It's the economy, right? You don't have to be a genius to see the connection. You just have to control your temper, or your tears. Just to give you an example, fatal work injuries in construction declined by 20 percent from 2007 to 2008. That has to be a comfort to carpenters, painters and plumbers flipping through the remote at home, because they can't get work. Hope they don't injure their thumbs. I think about all the workers' memorial services I covered, about the wives and mothers I saw sobbing in these poignant ceremonies next to the Delaware River in Philadelphia or on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. What do you think they think about this news?
In general, transportation accidents kill the largest number of workers nationally, about two-fifths. But those deaths were down. Of course they were down. No need to drive trucks, or buses. In 2008, there were 762 fatalities among transportation and warehouse workers. That's down 14 percent. In truck transportation, deaths declined by 20 percent.
The unemployment rate among African-American and Hispanic workers remained high, higher than the rate for white people. But, on a percentage basis, African-Americans and Latinos died less at work. Should we pop champagne? What's the right answer? To give you some perspective, in December, 2008, the unemployment rate among African-Americans was 11.9 percent, compared to 6.6 for whites. In July, it was14.5 percent for African-Americans and 8.6 percent for whites.
In all, 5,071 workplace fatalities were reported in 2008, down from 5,657. That's the smallest preliminary total since 1992.