Ohio sees drop in workplace deaths

Workplace fatalities in Ohio edged down slightly last year, making 2012 the second least deadly year for workers in more than two decades, according to preliminary data released in late August.

Last year, about 154 Ohio workers were killed by injuries and illnesses related to their jobs, including nine in the Dayton region and three in Clark County, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Automobile crashes were the leading cause of workplace fatalities in the state. The deadliest occupations included those in agriculture, transportation and construction.

Though some jobs are inherently more dangerous than others, all work environments contain safety risks, such as slippery surfaces, moving machinery and poor ventilation.

But workplace deaths are preventable, and employers have a responsibility to mitigate safety hazards through education, training, monitoring working conditions and providing proper equipment, experts said.

“I think we can do better and drive the rates lower, even though we probably will never be able to eliminate (all workplace deaths),” said Bill Wilkerson, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s area director for the Cincinnati office.

On July 27, 2012, a worker for Dayton-based ATW Automation Inc. was caught and pinned by a conveyor that had lowered during a “power down” process at the Mound Street facility, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The worker was trapped in the machine for about five minutes.

The worker suffered blunt force trauma, and he died from those injuries on Aug. 3.

Two days earlier, a 60-year-old temporary worker with A.H. Sturgill Roofing Inc. in Dayton was hospitalized after suffering a heat stroke in Miamisburg, the labor department said.

The man worked in direct sunlight on a commercial flat roof, and his job responsibilities included throwing rubber roofing material into a dump truck.

He died three weeks after he was admitted to the hospital as a result of medical problems related to heat exposure.

Exposure to the elements and machinery are just a few of the dangers facing Ohio workers.

Last year, workers across the state died from injuries and illnesses caused by falls, falling objects, chemical exposure, firearms, coworkers and other sources, according to preliminary data released by the Ohio Department of Health.

Workplace deaths in the Dayton metro area declined in 2012 after surging to 22 in 2011. In this area, there were eight workplace deaths in 2010, nine in 2009 and eight in 2008. Three workers were killed last year in Clark County, one fewer than in 2011.

The Dayton metro area includes Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties.

Work-related fatalities in Ohio dipped slightly from 155 in 2011, meaning the death toll was the second lowest since 1992, when the federal government began collecting and publishing the data, preliminary figures show. Work-related deaths hit a low of 137 in 2009.

But every job has safety risks, especially jobs that involve getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

On Wednesday night, two commercial truck drivers were killed on Interstate 75 near Tipp City following a seven-vehicle crash in a construction zone. The fiery crash involved three semis and four passenger vehicles.

Cars, buses, vans and freight or utility trucks played a role in the deaths of 38 Ohio workers last year, and 16 others were killed by off-road and industrial vehicles, such as forklifts, platform trucks and tractors.

“Motor vehicle accidents (remain) the no. 1 killer across all of the industries in Ohio,” said Bruce Loughner, technical safety adviser with the division of safety and hygiene with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

In addition to vehicle crashes, falls are a major safety threat, especially in the construction industry where employees often must work on elevated platforms, Loughner said.

Eighteen workers last year were also killed by machinery equipment, and five were killed by falling trees, logs and limbs. Seven Ohio workers last year were killed after falling from ladders.

Dangerous working conditions and insufficient training about safety hazards play a role in many workplace deaths, said Wilkerson, with the local OSHA office.

Workers often are killed by falls from ladders because they do not use the equipment appropriately or do not have access to the right type or ladder or do not follow the manufacturers’ instructions, he said.

Some tree trimmers in Ohio have died because the industry often relies on day laborers, who receive no safety training and have insufficient supervision, Wilkerson said.

Employers have a responsibility to provide their workers with safety equipment they need and teach them about the risks involved in their work, Wilkerson said.

Last year, ATW Automation was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for nine safety violations after the worker was killed at the local facility.

The citations included failing to properly train employees, failing to provide safety equipment and failing to develop specific energy-control procedures for equipment.

OSHA officials said the company failed to demonstrate a lack of commitment to employee safety and health.

“We’ve settled the case with them,” Wilkerson said. “They’ve come around to see the situation as we see it.”

A.H. Sturgill Roofing was cited by OSHA for two serious safety violations after the roofer died from complications related to heat stroke.

OSHA said the company failed to provide a program addressing heat-related workplace hazards and also failed to train workers about signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.

But A.H. Sturgill Roofing trained its employees about workplace dangers, and it provided extra breaks and ice water to workers, said Bob Dunlevey, an attorney who represents the company.

The worker who died had significant medical conditions unknown to his employer that likely contributed to his death since it was not especially hot that day — about 84 degrees, Dunlevey said.

On Aug. 1, 2012, the temperature at the Dayton-Wright Bros. Airport in Miamisburg peaked at 89 degrees, and the low was 70 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

The company is challenging the citations, and the case is set to go to trial next year.

Employees who worry about the safety of their working conditions should voice their concerns to their employers or contact OSHA with any questions, Wilkerson said.

“Workers need to protect themselves,” Wilkerson said. “If you sense that it is unsafe, it probably is.”

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