Homicide is the Philadelphia area's leading cause of workplace deaths

Homicide is the most common way to die on the job in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Tuesday.

One of five area workers who lost their lives on the job in 2009 died from a homicide, usually a shooting.

Among them was Oscar Medina Hernandez, 29, a father of two.

On Oct. 14, 2009, three robbers walked into Hernandez's bakery in Woodlynne, just outside Camden. One shot Hernandez while the others struggled to open the bakery's cash register.

On-the-job fatal injuries in the region totaled 66 in 2009, down from 84 in 2008.

"You want to jump up and down with joy that fewer people were killed on the job," said Barbara Rahke, director of the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Health and Safety, a workers' advocacy group.

"But then, so many people have been laid off," she said, skewing the data.

Employment in construction, one of the most dangerous occupations, is down considerably since the start of the recession in 2007.

Of the area's 66 workplace deaths in 2009, 13 were attributable to homicides, followed by 11 falls to a lower level and 10 highway incidents, the report said. Other common causes were getting caught in equipment, exposure to noxious substances, and being hit by a vehicle.

The Philadelphia region, which includes the city, surrounding Pennsylvania and South Jersey counties, and parts of Delaware and Maryland, is not unique. Homicides are the leading cause of workplace death in nine of the nation's 10 largest metropolitan areas.

The Washington area, at 26 percent, had the highest rate, ahead of Atlanta, at 25 percent. Only Boston, at 10 percent, fell below the national average of 12 percent.

Nationally, highway incidents cause the most workplace deaths - 882 of 4,340 killed in 2009.

"These are transportation-type fatalities. You have a lot of truck drivers, the long-haul guys who are on the road," said Sheila Watkins, regional commissioner for the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, which issued the report.

In Philadelphia, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, under the leadership of Albert D'Imperio, has been pushing to reduce fall-related deaths by increased training and enforcement.

Particularly at risk, D'Imperio said, are workers in residential construction. "They tend to fly under the radar," he said. The firms may be smaller with less access to training, especially for workers who speak Spanish.

But sometimes even the best training cannot prevent a fatality. By all accounts, James Wilson, 41, of Franklinville, N.J., was an experienced union journeyman on Oct. 12, 2009, when his high lift toppled over on Walnut Street, killing him.

 


Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.