Recent news coverage reported that the national Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) has shown an increase around the country – and the jump is even more pronounced in Oregon. This contrasts with the workers' compensation fatality data that we track (and report every spring), which shows that the death rate has flattened somewhat after increasing slightly after decades of decline. And the latest reports come on the heels of some very thoughtful coverage in the Oregonian about the realities of workplace death.
Many focus on the reality that various approaches do not readily agree on the way to count what is, statistically, a relatively small number. And I am interested in learning more detail about the CFOI numbers, since the various reasons why the number is always somewhat higher do not explain why it would show an increase when other indicators do not. But the more important reality can be too easily masked by these various statistical discussions.
I see all of the reports of fatalities reported to Oregon OSHA, and I also see all of our investigation reports. And, to me, the troubling reality is not really to be found in the rates or in how they have changed over the years. What troubles me in these reports, over and over, is that I see workers killed by hazards that can easily be recognized and that could have been easily corrected. What frustrates me is that, too often, the workers rely upon practices that have been passed around and passed down by more experienced workers. And what frustrates me is that employers and senior workers "wink" at and even tacitly encourage violations even while they point at their safety policies as providing the necessary protection.
In short, what upsets me when I read many of these fatality reports is that we kill people in Oregon workplaces much the same way we did decades ago. And the preventive measures are readily available.
The reason this matters, even though the rates have declined decade after decade, is that they are individual stories. For the worker who is killed, and for the friends and family left behind, it doesn't matter whether that worker is one of 20, one of 50, or one of 70. When it comes to that worker, the story is a tragedy, and that tragedy is compounded when the death was truly preventable and senseless.
The Oregonian coverage captured that reality well, focusing less on the numbers and more on the individual stories. And as we read those same individual stories, we face an inescapable conclusion: We can do better. We must do better.
“What troubles me in these reports, over and over, is that I see workers killed by hazards that can easily be recognized and that could have been easily corrected.”
If you want to receive the Resource Newsletter, sign up for future issues here.
Reprinting, excerpting, or plagiarizing any part of this publication is fine with us. Please send us a copy of your publication or inform the Resource editor as a courtesy. If you have questions about the information in Resource, please call 503-378-3272.
For general information, technical answers, or information about Oregon OSHA services, please call 503-378-3272 or toll-free within Oregon, 800-922-2689.