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The Deadliest Jobs in New England

Thursday, February 13, 2014

 

More than 700 workers have died from job-related injuries and other incidents in New England between 2008 and 2012, with more than half of all reported workplace fatalities occurring in just a handful of industries, according to data obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The deadliest jobs included heavy and tractor-trailer driving, commercial fishing, construction labor, law enforcement, firefighting, and logging, the data shows. While circumstances vary widely across those occupations, all tend to be high-risk jobs, according to Tim Consedine, a regional economist at the New England office for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (See below slides for the top 25.)

The most common injuries leading to workplace fatalities are falls and strikes by vehicles or equipment, according to James Celenza, the executive director of the Rhode Island Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, which provides workplace training throughout New England. Nationally, transportation-related accidents accounted for 40 percent of all workplace fatalities, Consedine said.

Hidden risks to some jobs

Some jobs have risks largely hidden from the public eye. While fishing, fighting fires or fighting crime might have obvious risks, being a social worker does not. Yet social work is among one of the deadliest occupations in the New England, ranking 25th when fatalities for social work with families, health care, mental health and substance abuse are combined. Between 2008 and 2012, half a dozen social workers died on the job.

In fact, one of the most high-profile workplace fatality cases was the death of Stephanie Moulton, a 25-year-old Peabody woman who was abducted, stabbed, and beaten to death by a man under her care at a group home in Revere in 2011. “I wish I could say that type of incident was an isolated incident,” said Jason Stephany, spokesman for SEIU Local 509, which represents more than 17,000 social workers like Moulton and other human service workers across Massachusetts.

“Our folks are really dealing with the most at-risk families and individuals throughout Massachusetts,” Stephany said. That work could place his members in a wide range of situations that are potentially unsafe—from dealing with those who have developmental disabilities to entering a home where there have been allegations of abuse or neglect.

“And so workplace safety is a very important part of this,” Stephany said.

Last summer, an employee at Community Healthlink, a Worcester-based organization that provides mental health and substance abuse services, was attacked by a patient with a utility knife while driving him to his home. The worker survived.

Social workers also face health-related risks, especially for those who handle bodily fluids that could be carrying pathogens, Stephany said.

Economic factors in workplace fatalities

While risk is a factor in what jobs rank as the deadliest, so is the economic and demographic makeup of a region, according to Consedine.

“We’re not West Virginia. We’re not Houston Texas,” Consedine said. “We don’t have a lot of mining activity.” In New England, there were just three fatalities in the mining industry. In West Virginia there were 14 deaths in the industry in 2012 alone. In Texas there were 88.

Overall, on-the-job deaths are on the decline. In 2012, there were 4,383 deaths at the workplace, down from 4,693, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Just one sector saw an increase after five consecutive years of declining fatalities: the construction industry. In 2012, construction accidents claimed the lives of 775 workers, up from 738 in 2011, an increase of 5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While workers in different industries may share in the same high risk, they are not equally compensated for it. Farmers and roofers had the same number of fatalities—nine—but the typical farmer earned $69,300, nearly double what a roofer did. There was one more fatality among electricians, whose salary of $49,840 put them roughly in between the incomes for farmers and roofers.

The difference unions make

Beyond the high risk, several other factors affect the safety of a workplace, experts say.

Michael Sabitoni, the president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, says the training unions provide to their members results in a safer workplace. He points to older worker fatality data from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, showing that there were 354 on-the-job deaths in non-union workplaces with just 77 deaths at unionized workplaces in New England between 1998 and 2005.

“The truth of the numbers shows me that investing in training and safety leads to better outcomes,” Sabitoni said. “I think all companies should invest in these types of programs that the unions provide.”

Beyond training, unions also provide protection for workers who speak out against workplace issues, Celenza said. Although there already is a federal law against firing employees for raising questions about safety, it is easier for businesses that aren’t unionized to skirt the law than for those that are, according to Celenza. Ultimately, a well-training worker who does not have union protection may still face unsafe working conditions, Celenza said.

“There is no doubt that being in an environment where a union is present gives workers a greater ability to both speak out on and address workplace safety concerns,” added Stephany.

But training will only get you so far, Celenza added. Sometimes, when catastrophe strikes—such as a major storm that breaks out before a commercial fishing boat loaded with fish can reach shore—all the training in the world can’t avoid a tragedy, Celenza said.

Other factors: language barriers, budget cuts

One trend in fatality rates points to a cultural factor. While the overall rate is declining, it is on the rise in one population, according to Celenza: Hispanic workers. “There’s a nexus of conditions that just kind of play into that,” Celenza said.

He said Hispanic workers tend to have less training and are more willing to take risks. For Hispanic workers, particularly those who are undocumented residents, Celenza said the fears they could lose a job drives them on to greater risks.

Hispanic workers also face a language barrier. Much may be lost in translation when a foreman gives safety instruction in English to a crew that includes non-English speakers, according to Celenza. Safety instructions on equipment, such as warnings on industrial washers that caution workers not to enter them and remind them de-energize the machines before any repairs, may be posted only in English, Celenza said.

Sometimes unsafe conditions are intentional: “There’s always going to be a subset of subcontractors that are going to cut corners,” Celenza said. Bypassing normal safety procedures saves money and gives those subcontractors an unfair edge in bidding for projects, according to Celenza.

For human service workers, a critically important factor in workplace safety is staffing, according to Stephany, who cited low staffing as a factor in the 2011 slaying of Moulton and the knife attack last summer.

In most cases, the lack of adequate staffing is due to budget constraints or funding cuts, according to Stephany. “To be quite frank, sometimes it is poor management,” he added.

Since the Moulton case, there have been signs of improvement. Last August, the U.S. Department of Labor reached a settlement with the North Suffolk Mental Health Association, the agency that employed Moulton. As part of the settlement, the agency agreed to implement “comprehensive procedures and policies,” including new violence prevent program, a “buddy system” for the second and third shifts, and a more proactive approach to identifying clients who exhibit threatening behavior, according to a news release announcing the settlement.

The tragedy has also led to a new annual conference on workplace safety known as the “Stephanie Moulton Safety Symposium,” which is supported by $100,000 in funding from the Massachusetts state legislature.

SEIU Local 509 has been leading the effort to boost staffing levels at North Suffolk as well as other agencies. Additional staffing can prevent a tense situation from escalating into violence and ensures there are enough hands-on workers available to protect both a social worker and their client, according to Stephany.

In the human services sector, making workplace safety for human service workers translates into safety for their clients at well, according to Stephany. “The number one priority of human service workers in Massachusetts is keeping the clients they serve safe,” he said.

In New England, as with the rest of the nation, it appears the number of workplace fatalities is on the decline. The latest fatality census for the Boston metropolitan area revealed that were under 20 deaths in 2012, the lowest level seen since 2000, according to Consedine. Still, the 706 people who have died at their jobs over the last five years is a troubling statistic for many workplace safety advocates. “Fatalities in the workplace should be zero,” Sabitoni said.

Stephen Beale can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @bealenews

 

Related Slideshow: New England Worker Fatalities

Below are the top 25 deadliest jobs in New England, based on the absolute number of fatalities for each occupation from 2008 to 2012, the most recently available year. Along with fatality figures, the median salary for each position, the overall occupation category, and the number of on-the-job deaths for each category are included. Where necessary, descriptions of each job are also provided. Data was obtained from the New England office of the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics in Boston. Note that data for 2012 remains preliminary. It will be finalized later this spring.

Prev Next

#25

Social Workers

Number of Fatalities: 6

Median Salary: $39,980 to $54,560

Occupation Group: Community and social service occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 12

Note: Category encompasses several specific occupations, including social workers in the child, family and school, health care, mental health and substance abuse fields. Because of insufficent data a breakdown by specific occupation was not available.

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#24

First-Line Supervisors of Retail Sales Workers

Number of Fatalities: 8

Median Salary: $36,820

Occupation Group: Sales and related occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 26

Note: First-line supervisors directly oversee and coordinate activities of retail sales workers in an establishment or department. Duties may include management functions, such as purchasing, budgeting, accounting, and personnel work, in addition to supervisory duties.

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#23

Driver/Sales Workers

Number of Fatalities:8

Median Salary: $22,670

Occupation Group: Transportation and material moving occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 167

Note: Includes those who drive trucks or other vehicles over established routes or within an established territory and sell or deliver goods, such as food products, including restaurant take-out items, or pick up or deliver items such as commercial laundry. May also take orders, collect payment, or stock merchandise at point of delivery. Includes newspaper delivery drivers. Excludes Coin, Vending, and Amusement Machine Servicers and Repairers and Light Truck or Delivery Services Drivers.

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#22

Farmers and Ranchers

Number of Fatalities:9

Median Salary: $69,300

Occupation Group: Management Occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 37

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#21

Roofers

Number of Fatalities: 9

Median Salary: $35,290

Occupation Group: Construction and extraction occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 129

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#20

General Maintenance and Repair Workers

Number of Fatalities: 9

Median Salary: $35,210

Occupation Group: Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 53

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#19

Commercial Pilots

Number of Fatalities: 9

Median Salary: $73,280

Occupation Group: Transportation and material moving occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 167

Note: Category includes those who pilot and navigate the flight of fixed-wing aircraft on nonscheduled air carrier routes, or helicopters. Requires Commercial Pilot certificate. Includes charter pilots with similar certification, and air ambulance and air tour pilots. Excludes regional, National, and international airline pilots.

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#18

Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators

Number of Fatalities: 9

Median Salary: $30,220

Occupation Group: Transportation and material moving occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 167

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#17

Janitors and Cleaners (Excluding Maids and Housekeepers)

Number of Fatalities: 10

Median Salary: $22,320

Occupation Group: Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 52

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#16

Electricians

Number of Fatalities: 10

Median Salary: $49,840

Occupation Group: Construction and extraction occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 129

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#15

Firefighters

Number of Fatalities: 12

Median Salary: $45,250

Occupation Group: Protective service occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 48

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#14

Fallers

Number of Fatalities: 12

Median Salary: $35,250

Occupation Group: Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 64

Note: Fallers use axes or chainsaws to fell trees using knowledge of tree characteristics and cutting techniques to control direction of fall and minimize tree damage.

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#13

Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics

Number of Fatalities: 12

Median Salary: $36,610

Occupation Group: Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 53

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#12

Taxi Drivers and Chauffeurs

Number of Fatalities: 12

Median Salary: $22,820

Occupation Group: Transportation and material moving occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 167

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#11

Painters, Construction and Maintenance

Number of Fatalities: 13

Median Salary: $35,190

Occupation Group: Construction and extraction occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 129

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#10

Laborers and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers (By Hand)

Number of Fatalities:15

Median Salary: $23,890

Occupation Group: Transportation and material moving occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 167

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#9

Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers

Number of Fatalities: 16

Median Salary: $55,270

Occupation Group: Protective service occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 48

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#8

Tree Trimmers and Pruners

Number of Fatalities: 16

Median Salary: $32,310

Occupation Group: Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 52

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#7

Landscaping and Groundskeeping Workers

Number of Fatalities: 18

Median Salary: $23,570

Occupation Group: Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 52

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#6

Light Truck or Delivery Services Drivers

Number of Fatalities: 18

Median Salary: $29,390

Occupation Group: Transportation and material moving occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 167

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#5

First-Line Supervisors of Construction and Extraction Workers

Number of Fatalities: 22

Median Salary: $59,700

Occupation Group: Construction and extraction occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 129

Prev Next

#4

Carpenters

Number of Fatalities: 24

Median Salary: $39,940

Occupation Group: Construction and extraction occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 129

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#3

Construction Laborers

Number of Fatalities: 26

Median Salary: $29,990

Occupation Group: Construction and extraction occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 129

Prev Next

#2

Fishers and Related Fishing Workers

Number of Fatalities: 34

Median Salary: $33,430

Occupation Group: Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 64

Prev Next

#1

Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers

Number of Fatalities: 59

Median Salary: $38,200

Occupation Group: Transportation and material moving occupations

Total Occupation Fatalities: 167

 
 

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Comments:

So, how did these people die? For example, retail sales supervisors? Are these actually work related deaths (example: item falls off shelf and hits supervisor in head) or just deaths that happen at work (example: hear attack??

Comment #1 by Bob Quindazzi on 2014 02 13

"In New England, as with the rest of the nation, it appears the number of workplace fatalities is on the decline."

No kidding--fewer jobs, fewer workers, fewer workplace fatalities...

Comment #2 by Jimmy LaRouche on 2014 02 13

These numbers are wrong. Many of the categories can be combined.

Bob Quindazzi asked "How did they die?" Good question.

Teachers are not on the list, yet six of them were murdered at Sandy Hook, that would equal the social workers. Even if no other teachers died in the work place from '08 to '12 they would have tied. Not to come down on social work or boost teachers, but let's be fair.

During this same time period how many New Englanders were killed in the military? Or are we just considering them acceptable losses?

GoLocal needs to be looking at more than one source for stories, a little research and journalism would go a long way.

Comment #3 by Wuggly Ump on 2014 02 13

Wuggly Ump you can add in the teacher that was recently murdered by her student up in mass. How do they publish a survey that missed the very high profile of seven teachers? GoLocal doesn't care that it has no journalist. Its a tabloid.

Comment #4 by Redd Ratt on 2014 02 13

Wuggly Ump you can add in the teacher that was recently murdered by her student up in mass. How do they publish a survey that missed the very high profile murder of seven teachers? GoLocal doesn't care that it has no journalist. Its a tabloid.

Comment #5 by Redd Ratt on 2014 02 13

Total disrespect not to include the teachers who died. You owe an apology or an explanation Mr. Beale.

Comment #6 by lupe fiasco on 2014 02 13

@Redd Ratt I thought about including the teacher you mentioned, the "social worker" statistic mentioned in the article dealt with the years '08 - '12. the Massachusetts killing happened in 2013. I was trying to keep apples with apples.

Again GoLocal there are obvious holes in the article that should have been caught.

Comment #7 by Wuggly Ump on 2014 02 13

You need to understand how the BLS complies the data. If you just said "local government education" - you will note they list 6 fatalities by homicide in 2012; however, remember 1 was an administrator, 1 was a psychologist, and I think the other 4 teachers so only 4 would count if you were doing by "job classification". that might explain why the number is not as high as social workers.

Also, the data does show general cause of death as noted by the chart in the story - ie. violence, accident, fire, "falling object or equipment", transportation -- for example, the majority of firefighting deaths were listed under transportation.

Comment #8 by Prof Steve on 2014 02 13

Thanks, Wuggly

Comment #9 by Redd Ratt on 2014 02 14




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