Workplace Deaths Decline In 2011, Weak Economy A Factor

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The number of work-related deaths in Connecticut fell to 36 in 2011, down from 49 in 2010 and slightly lower than the 20-year average of 40 per year.

The 2011 deaths included a construction worker who fell from a roof in Stamford and a Windsor firefighter who died of heart failure while responding to a call.

The state’s 2010 deaths were pushed up by the August murder-suicide of nine people at Hartford Distributors’ Manchester warehouse and by a February explosion that killed six people at the Kleen Energy plant under construction in Middletown.

Nationally, the number of workplace fatalities was essentially flat: 4,690 were reported in 2010 and 4,609 in 2011. The data were released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and could change slightly when final statistics are released next spring.

Erin Wilkins, a research associate with the Connecticut Occupational Safety and Health Statistics Unit, said most of the state’s 2011 incidents were single fatalities. In one accident, two people were killed.

She said the weak economy may have contributed to the decline in deaths. “Unemployment is up,” she said, “so the numbers go down.”

The industries that often see high numbers of accidents – such as construction – tend to be hard-hit by a recession. She said Connecticut also tends to benefit from having low-risk industries.

Thirteen people were killed on the job in transportation-related accidents, including highway workers and police officers struck by motor vehicles – up from 11 in 2010.

Twelve deaths were caused by workplace suicides or assaults, a decline from 17 in 2010.  Seven were caused by falls or slips, up from five the year before. Other people were killed by accidents with objects or equipment or because of exposure to a harmful substance or environment.

On average, Wilkins said, the state has had 40 workplace deaths per year since formal reporting began in 1992.

The largest number of deaths was in 1998, when 57 people died. They included five people who were killed in a shooting at Connecticut Lottery headquarters in Newington on March 6, of that year.

In 2008 there were only 28 workplace deaths – the lowest since 1992. Deaths nationally also declined that year.

The number of annual workplace deaths in Connecticut is small and a single incident can cause a spike in the data, Wilkins said. But overall, she said, Connecticut tends to mirror what’s happening nationally. Transportation-related deaths, for example, rose both nationally and in the state in 2011.

Each preventable death is investigated by OSHA with an eye toward preventing future fatalities by improving training, awareness or procedures.

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