Maine’s workplace fatalities increased in 2011, reaching highest level since 2003

Posted July 16, 2013, at 6:31 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The danger of being killed while on the job increased in Maine in 2011 compared to the prior year, according to a new report by the Maine Department of Labor.

In 2011, the most recent data available, 26 Maine workers died from occupational or work-related injuries, according to the report from the Research and Statistics Unit of the state’s Bureau of Labor Standards. That’s a 30 percent increase from the 20 workplace fatalities reported in 2010, according to the report released this week.

“Any death that occurs where the person makes their primary living, makes additional supplemental income, or doing something for their employer — off-site or on-site — is considered a workplace fatality,” according to Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Labor.

The 2011 figure is the highest one-year total since 2003, when there were 23 occupational fatalities. Before that year, the number of workplace deaths was consistently higher: 30 in 2002, 26 in 2000 and 32 in 1999, according to a 2003 report on workplace deaths from the Maine Department of Labor.

Figures from 2012 are not yet available because data collection on workplace-related deaths is left open for at least six months into the following year so that cases that might not seem to be occupation-related can be reviewed and included, Rabinowitz said.

Maine’s rate of occupational fatalities per 100,000 employed people was 4.2 in 2011, which was higher than the state’s rate of 3.3 in 2010.

It’s also higher than the national rate where there were 4,693 occupational fatalities during 2011, which works out to a fatality rate per 100,000 employed people of 3.5, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Transportation accidents accounted for the majority of the workplace fatalities in Maine in 2011. There were 16 deaths, or 61.5 percent of the total, caused by transportation accidents, which included motorized accidents, collisions involving other people, animals or objects and aircraft accidents, according to the report.

According to Michael Bourque, senior vice president for external affairs at the Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Co., which provides workers’ compensation insurance to Maine companies, transportation-related accidents are almost always responsible for the most workplace deaths.

“That’s not a surprise to us. We know that’s a dangerous risk at many workplaces. It’s one people don’t often think about,” he said.

While people often think the most dangerous jobs in Maine would be working as a fisherman, or in the construction or logging industries, that’s not actually the case, Bourque said.

“In many of those jobs, people have taken many precautions to avoid those injuries,” he said. “Maybe that says something about our complacency. It’s the stuff you don’t think about, it’s the driving you do every day that’s as risky as anything people do at work.”

Bourque said the number of workplace deaths are small enough that they don’t have a major impact on the workers’ compensation insurance employers pay for.

Other causes of workplace death include “violence and other injuries by persons or animals,” which accounted for four fatalities (15.4 percent), and “exposure to harmful substances or environments,” which accounted for three fatalities (11.5 percent). Three fatalities were in the “other” category according to the report.

By industry, the “transportation and material moving” sector accounted for seven fatalities (27 percent of the total). “Farming, fishing and forestry” and “construction and extraction” occupations each had four fatalities (31 percent), while “service occupations” had three fatalities (12 percent), according to the report. Eight fatalities were recorded within a broad range of occupational categories.

Bourque also said it’s important to remember that the amount of workplace deaths aren’t just numbers.

“It’s tragic,” he said. “People don’t go to work and expect not to make it home, and when they don’t, it’s an incredible tragedy for our society, their families and their workplaces. Every single one of them, in our mind, is preventable. We all need to do more to prevent them.”

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