Salem, OR — Thirty-five people covered by the Oregon workers’ compensation system died on the job in 2018, according to preliminary figures issued today by the Department of Consumer and Business Services (DCBS). That’s the same as 2017’s figure.
Total fatality counts in 2014, 2015, and 2016 were 31, 27, and 29, respectively, meaning that 2017 and 2018 saw the highest totals in recent years. Averaged over five years, there were approximately 31 on-the-job deaths annually.
Whether the numbers go up or down, or stay the same, DCBS is always cautious about drawing conclusions based on single-year comparisons of fatality data, which can be affected by a number of factors and may not represent a trend. The 2018 numbers are preliminary and will not be finalized until early 2020.
“Through enforcement and education, we have made major advancements in our struggle against workplace death,” said Michael Wood, administrator for Oregon OSHA. “However, there are still far too many workers who die from things we know how to prevent.”
The agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry saw the largest concentration of deaths in 2018, with nine workers killed in that industry. Seven of those people worked in logging. Transportation and warehousing, which includes truck transportation, had seven deaths. There were five deaths in the wholesale trade industry.
Overall, workplace deaths are down significantly compared to previous decades, as illustrated by compensable fatality rates, which track the number of accepted fatal claims per 100,000 workers.
In 2002, for example, the fatality rate was 3.3. In 2016, it was 1.6. That means the worker fatality rate in Oregon dropped by about half over a 15-year period. By way of context, the fatality rate in 1987 was 7.1. And the fatality rate has steadily come down despite a significantly larger workforce.
While fatalities are significantly down compared to previous decades, the overall downward trend appears to have flattened out.
From 2011 to 2017, for example, the compensable fatality rate hovered at or near 1.8 for five of those seven years. Meanwhile, compensable fatality data are not the only way to gauge the reality of death in the workplace.
Another barometer is the Workplace Fatalities in Oregon (WFO) program, which tracks on-the-job deaths regardless of workers’ compensation status. The program – a more comprehensive method of identifying fatalities – is relatively new and continues to collect data. DCBS issued the program’s first preliminary report in 2017. It showed that 61 people died on the job in 2016 – a nearly 50 percent increase from 2015’s figure of 41 deaths.
Using WFO guidelines, total workplace deaths were estimated for 2012 through 2014. Averaged over five years, there were approximately 51 on-the-job deaths annually.
“The recent numbers are troubling,” Wood said. “They demand our full attention as we look to the future and renew our commitment to pinpointing and eliminating workplace hazards. And these are not mere statistics. These are individual stories of lives cut short. We can – and we must – do better.”
In addition to its workplace health and safety enforcement activities, Oregon OSHA offers no-cost consultation services, technical guidance, educational workshops, and training videos to help employers create or improve their safety and health programs.
Compensable fatality statistics are compiled from records of death claim benefits paid by Oregon workers’ compensation insurers during the calendar year. Unlike the WFO program, the compensable data excludes workplace deaths involving self-employed individuals, city of Portland police and fire employees, federal employees, and incidents occurring in Oregon to individuals with out-of-state employers. These workers are either not subject to Oregon workers’ compensation coverage requirements or are covered by other compensation systems.