Workplace deaths fall to record low in Washington

Mar 15, 2012

The number of people killed on the job in Washington fell last year to the lowest number on record. Just 51 people died at work in 2011 – a big drop compared to 89 in 2010.

The Department of Labor and Industries is at a loss to explain why the number has fallen. They point to several areas where deaths declined. The biggest drop came among farm and forestry workers.

"We don't know why," says L & I spokesperson Elaine Fischer.

The numbers come from an annual report that describes each workplace death in the state. For example:

  • A construction worker operating a winch was struck in the head when the winch malfunctioned.
  • A utility lineman was knocked under the rear tire of a reversing truck while removing a tension wire.
  • A trash collector fell off the rear standing platform of a moving garbage truck.
  • A tree service worker was struck by a falling section of tree that was cut by another worker.

There’s no pattern to the workplace deaths.  Two workers died from bee stings.  The list also includes the prison guard who was strangled in Monroe. 

Lowest on record

If you add up all of these, there were far fewer than the year before. 

"We found it’s the lowest number in our recorded history. We looked back over decades of data," says Fischer.

Decades ago, there were a lot more deaths in logging and manufacturing. Construction has been one of the most dangerous industries.

A few anecdotal reasons why deaths fell so much last year:

  • No police officers died on the job in 2011. 
  • There were no major industrial accidents. 
  • Construction employment is down. 

Those all helped.  But the biggest drop came in farming and forestry, and there's no indication that employment changed much. "We did launch a tractor safety effort," says Fischer.

Maybe 2011 was just a lucky year, for most of us. 

Anyone looking for a meaningful trend over the past decade would need to get creative. Last year it spiked up. The number of workplace deaths has been fluctuating – typically between 70 and 90 per year. It's just never fallen this low before.