Fewer workers died on the job last year across the nation, but that wasn’t the case in Texas.
On-the-job fatalities jumped nearly 23 percent across the state last year, according to preliminary data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly all of the increase came from a spike in the number of transportation-related deaths.
Last year, 258 workers — a group that includes long-distance truckers as well as sales representatives going to client meetings — died in transportation-related incidents. That’s up from 168 a year earlier.
Overall, Texas lost 531 workers in 2012, compared with 433 workers the previous year, the agency reported.
“It’s serious,” said John Greeley, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation, in Austin. “It’s very serious.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics sent the preliminary data to the individual states for review. In Texas, the Insurance Department is responsible for collecting individual death certificates when workers die on the job and monitoring newspapers and other sources for reports of fatal accidents.
The agency also uses the detailed data to tailor health and safety programs for companies and workers in Texas, Greeley said.
In Texas, the construction industry recorded the most deaths. The preliminary data show 105 construction workers died on the job in 2012, compared with 83 during the previous year.
The transportation and warehousing industry had 96 fatalities last year, while mining reported 66 deaths.
Nationwide, 4,383 workers lost their lives in 2012, compared with 4,693 the previous year, the agency reported. Transportation-related fatalities were highest, followed by violence at work.
Michael Cunningham, executive director of the Texas Building & Construction Trades Council for the AFL-CIO in Austin, hasn’t seen the data but suspects a sizable portion of the increase comes from the surge in oil and gas exploration and production in Texas.
The work involves a lot of heavy vehicles, and recent proposals to convert paved roads to gravel is worrisome, he said.
“We need to do something to make it safer,” Cunningham said. While gravel roads require drivers to slow down, if they’re not maintained properly, they’re dangerous when it rains because of the “washboards” that form.
It’s easy to lose control, said Cunningham, who has had a lot of experience driving heavy vehicles over gravel.
Doug Watson, director of safety services for AGC Houston, has been working with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data going back about a decade to design better safety programs.
Watson, whose group is part of the Associated General Contractors of America, said fatalities for commercial builders have been falling even though work is picking up because of the better economy. He attributes the dip to a sharper focus on safety on the part of industry players as well as government regulators.
In May, AGC hosted a “national stand down day” in which contractors in Texas were asked to shut down for at least an hour and have sessions on how to avoid “trips and slips,” ladder safety and teaching proper safety guidelines when working around electricity.
It was so successful that federal regulars hosted a similar event earlier this month, Watson said.
He said sessions like that, combined with association visits to commercial contractors, are helping to get the word out about the importance of working safely.