Number of fatal workplace accidents on the rise

OSHA seeks to reverse trend of rising workplace deaths in Ohio.

An Ohio worker is dying on the job almost every week, according to the findings of federal workplace safety investigators from across the state.

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration directors from the Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo areas, noticing a disturbing trend, crunched the numbers and found that 45 to 48 fatalities occurred each year in 2012, 2013 and 2014, said Bill Wilkerson, the Cincinnati-area director of OSHA.

During the previous two years, 2010 and 2011, 38 to 40 people died in work accidents in Ohio, Wilkerson said.

“It’s about a 10 percent increase, which is contrary to the data nationally, which is fatalities are decreasing,” he said.

“We’re seeing a trend we want to reverse.”

There have been six workplace fatalities in the region since the beginning of the federal government’s budget year in October, the director said. Staff for the Cincinnati-area office enforces worker safety in the Cincinnati, Dayton and Springfield metropolitan areas.

According to Wilkerson, deaths include: two men killed after falling off a Butler County water tower in Reily Twp. last October; a man electrocuted at Cohen, a metal recycling plant in West Carrollton, also in October; an individual who tripped and fell during a fire drill and died from medical complications during surgery in Cincinnati; and a maintenance worker killed in November at a Fairfield bowling alley after getting caught in a machine he was trying to repair.

Most recently, Brandon Carl, 35, of Kentucky died Monday when Kokosing Construction Inc. crews were dismantling an old, unused bridge exit and the ramp fell onto Interstate 75 approaching downtown Cincinnati. OSHA inspectors this week are investigating the Hopple Street bridge collapse, which also injured a truck driver who was traveling on southbound I-75 when the structure spilled onto the highway.

Carl was a member of the union Laborers’ International, said Pete McLinden, executive secretary-treasurer of Cincinnati AFL-CIO. The Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council represents 120 affiliated public and private union groups in the region.

“An increase in fatalities like that is hard to fathom. It’s hard to believe its increased like that,” McLinden said.

As a result of rising workplace deaths, OSHA in Ohio is stepping up its awareness efforts to promote safety, Wilkerson said.

The most common cause of death at work are falls, caught-ins, getting struck by something and electrocution, he said.

The construction worker who died from the bridge collapse would be considered a struck-by or caught-in accident, he said. “He fell, but he fell towards and under the excavator.”

Then on Thursday night, a Middletown man was seriously injured after falling approximately 20 feet into a concrete pit at the AK Steel plant Middletown Works. He’s an employee of AK Steel contractor MPW Industrial Services, according to the companies.

“We attempt to increase our emphasis in these areas by number one telling the employers, ‘look, we’re going to stress you have to protect workers when you’re doing these kinds of operations,’” Wilkerson said.

“One of the ways we can do that is educating you guys on what you need to do and making sure you have provided your workers with necessary training and equipment to protect them,” he said. “If you don’t, we’re going to hold the line a little bit more using our enforcement powers.”

OSHA provides free on-site consultations to small employers, as well as other compliance assistance, educational materials and training. The Ohio On-site Consultation Program phone number is 800-282-1425.

“It all starts with trying to get the word out to people,” he said.

OSHA’s enforcement powers include citations and monetary penalties.

It’s the employers’ responsibility to instill safety practices and provide safety equipment, but it’s also the personal responsibility of workers to do what they’re supposed to do, Wilkerson said.

“Don’t just sit idly by and say, ‘well my guys know what to do’ because they don’t. If it requires special equipment, then get it and train people right,” Wilkerson said.

This newspaper reported last year that government mandates and underfunding mean OSHA spends more time investigating accidents than preventing them, according to the nonprofit Center for Effective Government in Washington, D.C. Based on current staffing and funding levels, it would take the U.S. OSHA 100 years or more to inspect every facility they’re supposed to in the U.S., officials for the Center for Effective Government said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of occupational illness and injuries at private industry has dropped from 4.3 million a year in 2003 to 3 million in 2012. Fatal work-related injuries have declined from 5,764 in 2004 to 4,628 in 2012 nationwide.

Staff Writer Amanda Seitz contributed to this story.

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