Ohio leads Midwest in work-related fatalities

Ohio leads the Midwest region for the number of workers killed on the job this year including the deaths of Manuel Aquino, a West Chester Twp. man trapped by heavy equipment at his workplace in Sharonville; and Daniel Walker, a construction worker from Kentucky who died in a semi-trailer crash on Interstate 70 in Englewood.

The deaths of Aquino and Walker were two of the 48 fatal work accidents investigated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration statewide between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 1 this year, the most up-to-date information available. The federal budget year ended Sept. 30.

Federal safety inspectors investigated more deaths in Ohio so far this year than in other Midwestern states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota, according to Scott Allen, spokesman for OSHA’s regional office in Chicago, which is a division of the U.S. labor department.

Deadly work accidents in Ohio are happening at about the same frequency as prior years, when there were an estimated 46 fatalities in 2014 and also 47 in 2013, according to OSHA.

The death toll just in the Cincinnati, Dayton and Springfield area overseen by OSHA’s Cincinnati-area director has reached 14 workers over the last 11 months, the same amount as the year before.

“In essence what we’ve reached is a plateau,” said Thom Kramer, managing principal for Miamisburg firm LJB Inc., which designs and inspects safety equipment used to prevent falls — the leading cause of death in the construction industry — for clients.

Recently released federal data revealed Ohio was one of 24 states to see an increase in 2014 for the number of fatal occupational injuries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

More details provided by OSHA in response to this news outlet’s request back-up claims about the worrisome trend in Ohio that work-related deaths are at high levels and that Ohio deaths are outpacing neighboring states.

Ken Montgomery, Cincinnati-area director for OSHA, was not available for interview by this newspaper’s deadline to discuss the trend. However, former OSHA Cincinnati Area Director Bill Wilkerson previously said he thinks the increases are due to a combination of factors including the lack of attention paid to safe work practices and training, a younger and newer workforce in manufacturing and construction, and strained office resources.

“Over the years we’ve driven the numbers down quite a bit… but what got us here isn’t going to get us there,” Kramer, of LJB, said.

The challenge for manufacturing, construction and other companies with potentially dangerous work sites is that it’s hard to tell if the safety procedure is working properly until there is a failure, Kramer said.

It’s more intuitive to wear hard hats and safety glasses. But just because an employee is wearing a harness on a rooftop doesn’t mean the harness is anchored correctly. Companies that implement safety procedures can’t always guarantee that employees are following the process on the job or that the process is practical for a job, Kramer said.

“That’s where the mentality has to change is how do we more predict those kinds of situations?” he said. “You need to ask yourself, ‘are your systems good or are they just lucky?’”

He suggested looking at ways to limit worker exposure in dangerous situations, taking advantage of technology such as more widespread use of unmanned aerial systems to do certain jobs and using alternative or back-up equipment to prevent falls such as scaffolding and guardrails, for example.

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.

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