Workplace deaths dip but most are still preventable

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LANSING — Slightly fewer workers died in the state last year than in 2010, according to the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Michigan State University.

But most of them could have been prevented, said Kenneth Rosenman, director of the division. “Workplace deaths are almost always avoidable, and there is no reason we shouldn’t be seeing a decrease in deaths.”

In 2011, the construction industry had the most deaths, followed by agriculture. Overall, the number of workplace deaths stayed relatively stable in 2011, when 141 workers died on the job compared with 145 in 2010.

Work-related fatal injuries occurred in 43 of the state’s 83 counties in 2010. Wayne County had the highest number (35), followed by Kent (11) and Oakland (10), according to the division’s annual report. The 2011 county statistics haven’t been completed, according to Jason Cody, media communications manager at MSU.

“We need an accurate counting of the magnitude of a condition to determine the amount of resources to devote to the problem, to plan interventions and to evaluate the effectiveness of these interventions,” Rosenman said.

According to the AFL-CIO, many job hazards are unregulated and uncontrolled.

“The toll on workers, their families and communities is enormous. Some employers cut corners and flagrantly violate the law, putting workers in serious danger and costing lives,” the union said.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs held a safety conference April 17 that offered many suggestions on how to prevent workplace deaths.

For example, Harvey Johnson, onsite industrial hygienist of the Consultation Education and Training Division at LARA, presented a lecture on how exposure to heat can be fatal and mentioned a few cases in Michigan where workers died from excessive heat exposure.

“Water is key to cooling the body and combating heat stress. Deadly heat stroke can be prevented. Call 911 and notify the supervisor; move the sick worker to a shaded area; cool the worker using methods including soaking their clothes with water and sponging them with water,” he said.

Also, the Occupational Safety and Health Division of LARA provided different courses for company owners, project managers, supervisors, safety and health managers, and laborers on industry safe and heath.

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