The tragic accident that caused the deaths of 12 men at International Coal Group's Sago Mine in West Virginia is a sad reminder of how dangerous the mining occupation is for its workers.
In fact, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mining industry has the second-highest fatality rate per 100,000 employees. Only the agriculture industry (which includes forestry, fishing and hunting) has a higher rate of death on the job.
In 2004, a total of 5,703 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States, an increase of 2 percent from the 5,575 fatal work injuries that were reported in 2003. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total number of fatalities in 2004 was the third-lowest annual total recorded by the fatality census, which has been conducted each year since 1992.
Overall, the rate at which fatal work injuries occurred in 2004 was 4.1 per 100,000 workers, down from a rate of 5.3 fatalities per 100,000 workers ten years earlier.
More good news: Workplace homicides were down sharply to the lowest level ever recorded by the fatality census. Unfortunately, however, fatal injuries resulting from being struck by an object rose 12 percent, overtaking workplace homicide as the third-most-frequent type of fatal event.
By far, the majority of work-related fatalities were caused by highway incidents. In 2004, there were 1,374 fatal highway incidents, representing about one of every four fatal work injuries in 2004. The second-leading cause of death on the job involved falls, predominately from roofs or ladders. There were 815 fatal falls reported in 2004, a 17 percent increase over 2003.
While the construction industry ranks fourth for the rate of fatal injuries per 100,000 workers, it recorded 1,224 fatal work injuries in 2004 — the most of any industry sector and an increase of 8 percent from a year earlier. In comparison, the mining industry recorded 152 fatal work injuries in 2004, while agriculture recorded 659 fatalities.
According to Boston-based Liberty Mutual, the leading private provider of workers' compensation insurance in the United States, on-the-job injuries cost employers a pretty penny. Workplace injuries cost employers nearly $1 billion per week in payments to injured employees and their medical care providers.