Approximately two million people worldwide are killed by their work every year according to the International Labor Organization. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 2012 preliminary total of 4,383 fatal work injuries within the United States. An occupational fatality is a death that occurs while a person is at work or performing work related tasks. Occupational fatalities are also commonly called occupational deaths or work-related fatalities.
Common causes of occupational fatalities include the following:
- machine-related incidents
- motor vehicle accidents
- falling objects
The importance of safety training should be noted. Many occupational fatalities can be prevented.
Lack of proper employee safety training and failure to enforce the use of safety equipment are common contributors to occupational fatalities. Insufficient supervision of workers and employment of inexperienced employees who are not properly trained are also contributors.
Disorganized worksites, poor logistics, scheduling issues, insufficient processes, lack of policies, and unenforced standards can all contribute to occupational fatalities.
In each of these cases, occupational fatalities can be prevented.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for enforcing laws regarding safety in the workplace within the United States to ensure employers provide a healthy and safe work environment for employees. OSHA establishes guidelines and safety standards, reviews complaints and issues citations to correct behaviors and processes. OSHA standards address employee training programs, safety equipment, employer record keeping and proper maintenance of the workplace. Failure to comply with the OSHA standards can result in workplace inspections and legal action including citations and fines. The cost of an OSHA workplace safety notice of violation (NOV) can range from $11,000.00 for an electrical safety violation to millions for violations resulting from fatality investigations. For organizations with critical or mixed use facilities and data centers, or manufacturing plants spread out by region, this can amount to significant costs.
Employee safety is the primary responsibility of the employer. Employers must train employees on safety procedures and maintain a safe working environment so that fatalities are less likely to occur. Manager and supervisor responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
- advise workers of the potential or actual hazards that exist
- provide workers with written instructions and explanations on measures and procedures to follow
- ensure employees use or wear personal protective equipment or clothing as required
- take precautions that are reasonably practical to protect health and safety
- implement policies and procedures
- identify workplace hazards and correct where possible, or report matters to appropriate personnel
- ensure effective consultation and coaching occurs
- investigate accidents and incidents
- provide initial and ongoing training for employees
- respond to issues raised by employees
- report on statistics and relay feedback to the management team
Health and safety programs are an important part of preventing injury and illness in the workplace. Effective health and safety programs educate workers on the benefits of practicing proper workplace behaviors. Risk assessment can also help to prevent incidents and fatalities. Health and safety professionals are able to perform adequate risk assessment of jobsites, logistics, policies, and history of injuries that have occurred to educate employers, supervisors, and employees regarding how to identify risk factors in their work environment and help avoid incidents that may result in death.