Welcome to the fourth in our series examining the issues surrounding workplace safety in San Antonio, Bexar County and Texas as a whole. In this post, we discuss the current state of workplace injuries and illness based on current statistics.
One #1 Status Texas Shouldn’t Want
The prevalence of workplace accidents that cause injuries and fatalities is simply an unfortunate aspect of doing business in the United States. There are a few times when unexpected accidents occur; accidents that no one could have foreseen or prevented. However, many more accidents are easily predictable and occur because of the negligence of one or more parties. Likewise, some accidents are caused by workers themselves, when the worker becomes careless, sometimes because of a lack of safety training, as mandated for most employers.
It’s helpful to know that worker injuries and illnesses in Texas have been inching up every year, led by the most common workplace injuries, including sprains, strains, and tears. According to the Texas Department of Workers Compensation, private employers reported 177,977 non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses across Texas in 2018 – the last year for which we have complete statistics. Of those nonfatal accidents, nearly 30 percent were serious injuries that required days away from work. The median time off was nine days away from work that year.
There is a lot more to consider than non-fatal injuries, of course. In Texas in 2018, a worker died on the job every 16 hours, which means someone suffered a workplace and family tragedy virtually every day. These fatal injuries came from many causes, including falls, asphyxiation, electrocution, equipment failures, heatstroke, exposure to toxins, and auto collisions. The same year, the number of workplace fatalities was higher than the number of murders in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Austin combined. It was actually the deadliest year in Texas workplaces for more than 20 years.
This is Not New for Texas
In fact, Texas has led the nation in workplace fatalities every year since 2009. Our state also leads the nation with the highest rate of workplace deaths per capita. It’s certainly not a record we can point to with pride.
The construction industry suffers the most workplace deaths. However, the causes of this record are rigorously debated. Many workplace safety experts say the high fatality rate is because so many Texas policies deviate from federal OSHA regulations. For example, many experts suggest that the fact that Texas employers are not required to provide regular rest breaks for construction workers, even in the oppressive summer heat, is a major problem. There is also the fact Texas does not require private employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Those issues, along with low union participation in Texas serve to set up a more dangerous work environment for construction workers.
That said, regardless of why construction workplaces are so dangerous the rate at which construction works are dying on the job is high enough to alarm most workplace safety experts and the families of those workers are entitled to both answers and reasonable compensation.
According to most statistics provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workplace deaths in Texas jumped 7% from 2015 to 2016, and stayed roughly the same thru 2017. It was striking that a larger-than-expected number of worker fatalities were 65 years old or older.
Workplace Fatalities by Event
By a wide margin, the leading cause of workplace fatalities statewide came about due to transportation incidents, mostly motor vehicle accidents. These types of accidents accounted for about 40% of workplace fatalities overall. However, there were many other significant causes, such as the following:
- Transportation incidents – 40%
- Falls, slips, trips – 17%
- Violence and other injuries by persons or animals – 16%
- Contact with objects and equipment – 14%
- Exposure to harmful substances or environments – 10%
- Fires and explosions – 2%
Workplace Fatalities by Industry
The industry with the highest number of workplace fatalities were, as noted, the construction and transportation industries. Here is a ranking of industries by workplace fatalities:
- Construction fatalities: 971
- Transportation fatalities: 882
- Agriculture and forestry fatalities: 581
- Government workplace fatalities: 473
- Waste management fatalities: 460
- Retail fatalities: 287
Highest Fatality Rates by Occupation
According to BLS data, commercial fishermen would seem to have the most dangerous job in the country, with 99.8 fatalities for every 100,000 full-time workers. While the fatality rates decreased for logging and fishing, that may have happened due to increasing rates in other industries. What follows are the top ten occupations with the highest rate of workplace fatalities:
- Fishers and related fishing workers – 99.8
- Logging Workers – 84.3
- Aircraft pilots and flight engineers – 48.6
- Roofers – 45.2
- Refuse and recyclable material collectors – 35
- Structural iron and steel workers – 33.4
- Driver/sales workers and truck drivers – 26.8
- Farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers – 24
- First-line supervisors and construction trades and extraction workers – 21
- Grounds maintenance workers – 18.7
Workplace Fatalities by State
In part because of our large population and also because of the booming oil and gas industry, as well as the burgeoning construction industry. Texas was by far the deadliest state for workers. Our home state accounted for over 10.4% of all workplace deaths nationwide. Below are the Top Ten states, ranked based on the number of workplace fatalities suffered in 2018.
- Texas – 534
- California – 376
- New York – 313
- Florida – 299
- Georgia – 194
- North Carolina – 183
- Ohio – 174
- Pennsylvania – 172
- Illinois – 163
- Michigan – 153
While it is a fact that some workplace accidents are actually accidents, meaning they could not be foreseen or prevented, the vast majority of workplace accidents in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas and beyond are actually preventable. Most worker injuries occur due to carelessness, lack of proper training, or unsafe work conditions, all of which point to negligence on the employer’s part.