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August 5, 1999

112 Washington workers died on the job in 1998

TUMWATER - The number of Washington workers who died from job-related injuries last year was unchanged from the previous year as 112 workers suffered fatal workplace injuries in 1998, according to records released today by the Department of Labor & Industries.

Although Washington's rate is slightly lower than the national average, it's still too high, according to Dr. Michael Silverstein, assistant director for L&I's WISHA Services Division. (WISHA is the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act.)

"While the number of fatalities has remained fairly constant over the years, the fact is that two workers die on the job every week in Washington," Silverstein said. "That's unacceptable, and we know we can do better."

He noted that although workplace deaths leveled off in 1998, the number of Washington workers killed on the job is consistently more than 100, year in and year out. This is a concern to Silverstein, who noted that the state has made some progress with injury and illness rates starting to come down in recent years.

"We need to start making the same progress with workplace fatalities that we're starting to make with injury and illness rates," he said. "It can be done, and we can do it, but it's going to take a commitment from everyone involved - employers, workers and government."

One new tool that will help accomplish that goal is the state's recently approved Occupational Safety and Health Grant program. L&I joined with business and labor to develop this innovative program and then obtain the Legislature's approval. Briefly, the program annually will provide up to $5 million in grants to business and labor organizations to creatively make Washington workplaces safer and more healthful.

The 1998 statistics show that Washington continued a historical trend with nearly half of the fatalities resulting from transportation accidents. A total of 49 workers died in transportation-related accidents, although only about half that number involved highway accidents.

The high-hazard industries of construction, manufacturing and agriculture continue to account for half of the year's fatalities. Silverstein noted that this is disturbing for a couple reasons, including the fact that hazards in these industries are well documented, and "we know how to protect workers from these hazards."

One bright piece of news in the numbers: the number of agriculture, forestry and fishing deaths dropped from 23 in 1997 to 17 in 1999.

The data were compiled by the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program, a cooperative effort between L&I and the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data not only include the workplace fatalities investigated by L&I under authority of the Washington Industrial and Safety Act (WISHA), but also workplace fatalities investigated by the Washington State Patrol, local police departments, the U.S. Coast Guard, federal Department of Energy, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Workplace fatalities in 1998:

By industrial category: 1998 1997
Agriculture, forestry and fishing 17 23
Mining 1 0
Construction 16 13
Manufacturing 23 23
Transportation & public utilities 14 13
Wholesale trade 5 6
Retail trade 6 8
Finance, insurance & real estate 1 1
Services 14 9
Government 15 16


By event: 1998 1997
Transportation 49 52
Assaults & violent acts 10 15
      *(Homicides) (8) (10)
Contact with objects & equipment 16 20
Falls 14 12
Exposures to harmful substances or environments 15 11
Fire & explosions 8 0
Other events or exposures 0 2

* This is a sub-category of the assaults and violent acts category.


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