Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issues a report on the census of fatal occupational injuries. In the preliminary report of occupational fatalities for 2009, which was just issued last week, we learn that that 4,340 people died on the job last year. This is the lowest number on record since data began being collected in 1992, and it represents a dramatic drop from the 5,214 deaths in 2008. For comparison, it is better to measure in terms of 100,000 full-time equivalent workers (FTEs) – a drop from 3.7% to 3.3%.

It would be nice if the drop could be attributed to safer workplaces, but BLS points to economic factors: total hours worked dropped by 6%, and the drop was significant in dangerous professions, such as the construction industry, which historically account for a large percentage of fatalities. Plus, 2009 numbers are preliminary; some data may be delayed by fiscal constraints.

This number encompasses all causes of death, but there are 4 types of events or exposures that account for nearly 90% of all fatalities:

  • Transportation related (1,682 or 39%) – this includes all vehicles, including auto and trucks, farm-related, aircraft, boats, and trains
  • Assaults and violent acts (788 fatalities, or 18%) – this includes 521 homicides and 237 self-inflicted injuries resulting in death
  • Contact with objects (734, or 17%) – this includes being struck by objects or caught in machinery
  • Falls (617, or 14%) – this includes falls to a lower level and on the same level

Workplace homicides
The 788 assaults and violent acts in 2009 were down from 816 in 2008. Of the homicides, 420 were shootings and 48 were stabbings. In terms of sheer numbers, a worker has about the same odds of being killed from a fall as being murdered.

BLS notes that “Workplace homicides declined 1 percent in 2009, in contrast to an overall decline of 17 percent for all fatal work injuries. The homicide total for 2009 includes the 13 victims of the November shooting at Fort Hood. Workplace suicides were down 10 percent in 2009 from the series high of 263 in 2008.”

Behind the homicide numbers
Because work shootings by disgruntled employees command such media attention, it’s likely that this is the association most people make in their minds when they hear the term “workplace homicide.” In reality, these incidents are relatively rare and the the vast majority of work-related homicides are the result of robberies in retail or service organizations. According to a recent BLS report on workplace homicide characteristics from 1997 to 2009, about 75% of work homicides fall into this category.
When talking about violence at work, the FBI offers four types or categories. Such distinctions, below, are helpful in terms of developing prevention strategies and risk management controls.

Type I
– Violent acts by criminals who enter the workplace to commit crimes without connection with the workplace. Typically, these events are robberies against retail establishments.

Type II – Violence directed at employees by individuals to whom their employer provides services (e.g., clients, customers, patients, etc). This would include police, correctional offcers, health care workers, teachers, and other public or private service provides who are assaulted while providing service.

Type III – Violence against organizational insiders by organizational insiders. The “disgruntled employee” type of situation that we saw in the recent Connecticut shooting would be included in this category. These type of events might include a fatal assault on one or more than one coworker.

Type IV – Violence committed by someone who is not an employee, but who has a personal relationship with a targeted employee. Typically, this is domestic or spousal violence that spills over into the workplace. It might be directed at one targeted person, or might also include others in the workplace.
In future posts on the topic of workplace violence, we’ll talk about preventive and risk management strategies for the various types of workplace violence.

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