Unfortunately, millions of American workers are injured and thousands more lose their lives every year in job-related incidents. It is important to document these incidents to understand why they occur and to take steps to improve workplace safety. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the source for information regarding reportable workplace injuries and fatalities. In November of 2017, the BLS released the latest (2016) statistics on nonfatal workplace injuries. Just over a month later, fatal work injury statistics were released for public review. The raw data provided in the releases provides an insight into whether the laws and systems in place to protect workers are serving their purposes.

According to the BLS, there were 2.9 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported for 2016. The figures are slightly down from 2015 statistics. Reportable nonfatal workplace injuries are broken down into those resulting in time missed from work (the more serious injuries) and those that do not require time off from work (minor injuries). A third of all nonfatal injuries in 2016 were attributable to serious injuries requiring days away from work. Interestingly enough, in manufacturing, injuries and illnesses to production workers accounted for 64 percent of the total days away from work incidents. It should be noted that production workers in manufacturing are likely working with or around industrial machinery. BLS reported 5,190 fatal workplace injuries in 2016. Statistics from prior years indicate three consecutive years of increases in annual workplace fatalities and 2016 is the first year since 2008 that on the job deaths exceeded 5,000. Fatalities involving contact with objects or equipment along with deaths associated with harmful environments both increased.

When a worker dies in an on-the-job injury the loss extends beyond the workplace to the family that lost a loved one and a provider. Likewise, serious nonfatal injuries either require significant time from work, and in some instances, reduce the injured employee’s earning capacity. For non-fatal injuries, the worker’s income and ability to earn income will be negatively affected temporarily.

Some injuries are severe enough to negatively affect a worker’s earnings for their entire work life expectancy. Because many of the deaths and serious nonfatal injuries are caused by interactions with some form of industrial machinery, it is important for manufacturers to ensure that robots and other machines are designed with adequate safety devices in place.

In turn, the employer has a responsibility to properly train employees and ensure that the manufacturer-provided safety devices are installed and properly maintained. Safer industrial machines will result in a reduction of deaths and the nonfatal injuries requiring days off work.

It should be no surprise that the current administration took steps to reduce the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) ability to enforce workplace safety requirements. OSHA’s purpose is to emphasize worker safety and many of the rules apply specifically to safeguarding industrial machinery. Without OSHA’s constant oversight, manufacturers and employers might be tempted to sacrifice worker safety for profits, which will lead to more deaths and serious injuries.

We will continue to monitor these statistics and use them to inform our readers about workplace safety. If you need more information, contact Kendall Dunson, a lawyer in our Personal Injury & Products Liability Section, who handles workplace litigation for our firm. He can be reached at 800-898-2034 or by email at Kendall.Dunson@beasleyallen.com.

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