Editorial: Workplace safety data heading in wrong direction
The Canton Repository Editorial Board
We’ve entered the week of the year when it becomes common to look back at the preceding 12 months (or some similar time period) and form conclusions about what occurred — the good, the bad and the ugly — with the idea we will make some kind of resolution for improvement in the new year.
On the topic of safety in the workplace, the United States needs to make a collective resolution to reverse numbers clearly heading in the wrong direction.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this month that fatal injuries on the job reached 5,190 in 2016. That’s up 7 percent from the previous year and marks the third year in a row for a year-over-year increase.
It also is the first time since 2008 — not coincidentally, when the Great Recession led to a significant dip in civilian employment — that the number exceeded 5,000.
So while we’re recovering in the labor market, with national unemployment now barely above 4 percent, it’s coming at a cost of seeing more of our workers hurt or killed on the job.
According to the National Safety Council, no group is immune.
Overdoses from the non-medical use of drugs or alcohol while on the job increased from 165 in 2015 to 217 in 2016, a 32 percent increase, the council reported. Other dramatic increases for fatalities in the workplace in 2016 occurred among workers age 55 and older, up almost 10 percent; and blacks, up more than 18 percent.
Homicides in the workplace rose nearly 20 percent from 2015 and accounted for 500 of the deaths. (The homicide deaths of two postal workers in Columbus last week will be included in next year’s report, as will the apparent accidental death involving a worker at the Canton Fresh Mark meat-processing plant earlier this month.)
“Employers cannot ignore this data, particularly since many different demographics are affected,” the National Safety Council wrote in a news release outlining the Bureau of Labor Statistics findings.
“All employers need to take a systematic approach to ensure the safety of all of their workers. This includes having policies and training in place to address the major causes of fatalities as well as emerging issues such as prescription opioid misuse and fatigue,” the council wrote.
Employees bear a responsibility to follow safety procedures and guidelines, obviously, and this doesn’t extend solely to workers in industrial settings. Falls and slips can occur anywhere there are stairs or floors made wet, from melting snow, for example.
Even when we’re not “on the job” ourselves, we can help. By far, the greatest number of deaths (and injuries) occur on our roads. If we all slow down and move over for workers on the side of the road or for those driving the big rigs, we can contribute to making their workplace safer.
“Workplace injuries and fatalities should never be considered a cost of doing business. Every worker deserves a safe work environment and to return home safely at the end of each work day,” the National Safety Council wrote.
We couldn’t agree more. Let’s resolve to do what we can to make our workplaces (and those of others) less dangerous in 2018. A year from now, let’s look back and be proud that we moved safety numbers in the right direction.