SALT LAKE CITY — The number of people losing their lives on the job in Utah fell slightly, recently released data shows.
Forty-three fatal workplace incidents were recorded during 2017, the most recent information available, according to a report from the Utah Labor Commission in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number was down from the total of 44 deaths on the job in 2016.
And it dropped despite the state's strong economy that has seen more people working, noted Eric Olsen, public information officer for the Utah Labor Commission. Olsen attributed the stability to increased implementation of more effective worker protection policies across numerous workplace sectors.
"A lot of employers have a lot of good safety programs in place," he said. "We're seeing employers spending a lot of money to keep their employees safe."
The data was obtained through the annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries conducted by the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Of the 43 work-related fatalities in 2017, nearly 42 percent — 18 deaths — were transportation incidents, Olsen said. Approximately 83 percent of the transportation incidents involved vehicles, the data showed.
"(In the transportation industry), there is more opportunity for something to go wrong," he said. "There is weather and all sorts of different variables aren't as easily controlled as in a controlled (indoor) environment."
He noted the sheer size of the industry and the number of vehicles on the roads daily in transportation greatly increase the chances for incidents that could potentially result in an injury or death. The higher percentage of fatalities doesn't necessarily reflect on the nature of the industry, which is by and large relatively safe, he said.
Among the remaining casualties in 2017, data indicated that seven were violence and other injuries by persons or animals, 10 were from contact with objects or equipment, while three involved falls, slips or tripping incidents, and five were from exposure to harmful substances or environments in the workplace.
The report indicated that men accounted for 95 percent of all workplace fatalities in 2017 — up slightly from 91 percent during 2016. Of the 41 men who were fatally injured during 2017, transportation incidents accounted for 17 of those fatalities, the report stated.
The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries section of the BLS Occupational Safety and Health Statistics program compiles a count of all fatal work injuries occurring in the U.S. during the calendar year, Olsen said. The program uses various state, federal and independent data sources to identify and verify work-related deaths, he said.
Olsen added that regulatory entities such as the state labor commission have been working with employers to help improve workplace safety without burdening employers' ability to operate effectively. He said companies often request compliance officers to visit their properties to counsel employers on the best ways to create safer work environments.
"Our consultants will spend a lot of time looking for possible hazards and issues (then) helping to prescribe some safety measures," Olsen said. "There are a lot of companies that take part in that program and it doesn't cost them anything and it helps make their workers safe."
He said while the number of fatalities may change only slightly year to year, being able to save even one more person is a significant outcome overall.
"Even if it's just a slight downward trend (in fatalities), that one person means the world to everybody," he said. Considering the upward trend in industries like construction and manufacturing in Utah, the results indicate the safety efforts by government regulators, employers and employees are working as intended.
"A lot of these (incidents) can be prevented," Olsen said. "Stay on your toes and don't cut corners. Take the time to do things the right way."
One business leader says companies are more proactive when it comes to safety.
Hendrik van Brenk, vice president of environmental safety and health for Layton Construction, says there is greater awareness of creating programs leading to "incident prevention."
"A natural result of that is a decrease in fatalities," he said. Part of the companywide strategy is to give workers on-site the ability to enact peer-to-peer intervention when they experience a potential safety concern, he noted.
"We've always had rules, procedures and policies," he said. "But how do you actually change behavior?"Comment on this story
He said the organization has spent a lot of time over the years working to recognize hazards and potential danger at worksites. Over that time, policies have been implemented to empower leaders to promote safety at every level, he added.
"We have better tools identify hazards early on so that not only are hazards recognized but the behavior is modified to fully mitigate those hazards," van Brenk said. "We're beginning to create the environment that peers intervene. When you have that, then you actually have the opportunity to be injury-free."