At Mines and Stores, Dying to Work

The wrenching story of the West Virginia miners who, after being reported alive, were learned to be dead has focused—briefly— attention on mine safety, and hopefully the larger issue of workplace fatalities.

Each year more than 5,000 Americans die at work. In other words, every year the death toll in U.S. workplaces is roughly equal to the body count from September 11 and the war in Iraq, combined.

A look at the annual Department of Labor report on worker deaths paints a broad picture of who the victims are, what they do, and how they perish. Seventy-one percent are white and 93 percent are men. While 10 percent are murdered, 24 percent get killed on the highway. Some 139 of those killed were younger than 20, and a dozen were younger than 16. Construction sites lose the most workers (1,224 in 2004), with about 500 dead each in trucking and manufacturing. "Professional and business services" account for 448 fatalities, retail trade for 372. Cops and other law officers were 164 of the dead; mines lost 152.

It's all very shocking. But context is important here. China loses 5,000 people a year just in its mines. And New York workers have it fairly safe. Compared to the other 49 states, NYC and NYS rank fifth and sixth lowest in terms of workplace deaths per capita. Wyoming tops the list of deaths-to-population. West Virginia is the eighth deadliest.


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