WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) -- Work is not always the safest place to be. In fact, depending on what kind of work you do, it can be the least safe place to be.
The issue of work safety has been highlighted dramatically in recent history with such far ranging examples as the Pennsylvania mining accident, that ultimately resulted in the rescue of nine nearly drowned miners, to the heartbreaking explosion on the Space Shuttle Columbia that killed seven astronauts.
Workplace fatality statistics for the most recent year available, 2001, are some of the worst ever, in part for the most tragic of reasons -- the victims of the devastating terror strikes of Sept. 11 are rightfully added to the total.
But even when the death of these workers is subtracted, it is still a high year for worker fatalities.
A total of 8,786 work fatalities were reported in 2001, including those related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Labor. A total of 2,886 work-related fatalities resulted from the events of Sept. 11. Excluding these fatalities, the overall workplace fatality count was 5,900 for 2001, the BLS said.
The 2001 fatality count of 5,900 was down less than 1 percent from 2000. Total employment also declined slightly in 2001. As a result, the occupational fatality rate was the same in 2001 as in 2000, 4.3 fatalities per 100,000 employed, according to the BLS.
The construction industry, with fatalities at their highest level since the fatality census was first conducted in 1992, continued to report the largest number of fatal work injuries of any industry, BLS reports.
Statistics aside, McWane Inc., an Alabama-based sewer and water pipe manufacturer, is often cited among policy makers and media as one of the worst examples of workplace safety.
Since 1995, nine McWane employees have died in workplace accidents. Among other incidents was an industrial oven explosion that killed a McWane worker who was directed to incinerate highly combustible paint in the oven, or a worker crushed by a conveyor belt, which had no required protective guard.
According to federal investigators, three of McWane's workplace deaths resulted from deliberate violations of U.S. safety standards, and in five other deaths, lapses in safety helped to contribute to the loss of life of workers.
Since 1995, over 4,500 McWane employees have suffered workplace injuries.
Death and injury on the job is what some call our nation's "hidden epidemic," suggesting that this is a partially preventable malady, which can be combated with stronger safety legislation and the education of workplace managers, workers and policymakers.
A "Workplace Safety Summit" is being held April 10 at the Georgetown University Center for Business and Public Policy, part of the McDonough School of Business.
According to the university, the goals of this year's summit are "to elevate safety as a priority of business, and to advance the understanding that safety results from programmatic attention."
The school described the expected attendees as "academics, opinion leaders, business executives, labor union activists, nonprofit representatives and government leaders" who will discuss the nation's workplace safety problem, its causes, and possible solutions.
"Before the end of today, 17 Americans will die in work-related accidents and 6,000 will die before 2003 is over ... In addition, nearly 6 million people will be injured or suffer an illness related to their work," John Mayo, the dean of Georgetown's Center for Business and Public Policy, said in a recent Houston Chronicle opinion piece.
But professor Mayo, a workplace safety expert, decries the fact that what he calls a "workplace safety crisis" has for the most part escaped the attention of the media, the public, and elected officials.
Mayo also notes that accidents causing death and injury on the job cost U.S. businesses and taxpayers more than $170 billion a year in lost productivity and increased worker compensation, health care and insurance cost.
Georgetown professor of management, Lamar Reinsch, the Director of the Center for Business and Public Policy at Georgetown University, notes that while the U.S. accident and injury rate is not as high as many countries, "it's a case of where we have been too easily satisfied."
In the case of large corporations, Reinsch noted, they have long since adopted comprehensive safety training programs as part of the corporate culture. But one of the biggest problems Reinsch said is the "lack of resources for small businesses" in combating injuries and fatalities.
What is needed is an easily available training resource for small businesses that will help teach safety programs and implementation, the professor said.
Whether the businesses are large or small, Reinsch said that all "safety requires systematic and programmatic planning."
Considering safety training as the key, the management professor praised the many "thoughtful men and women who devoted their time and effort to creating a safe workplace. "
(Work force is a monthly labor and workplace column that highlights issues of key importance to American workers of all occupations. Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org)