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Workplace fatalities rose by 7 percent in 2016

Figures from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reveal that workplace accidents claimed the lives of 5,190 workers in California and around the country in 2016. That number represents an alarming 7-percent increase over the 2015 death toll and is the most workers killed since 5,214 lost their lives in 2008. Workplace safety advocates say that the rise in occupational fatalities indicates that more government oversight is needed because many of the deaths occurred in lightly regulated industries.

Transportation incidents and road traffic accidents were responsible for one in four worker fatalities in 2016, and deaths connected to workplace violence rose by 23 percent, but OSHA and work safety groups are particularly concerned about a growing opioid crisis. Overdose deaths among workers had increased by at least 25 percent for four consecutive years before surging by 32 percent in 2016.

OSHA said that it would work with the private sector and other federal agencies like the Department of Labor to address the issue of drug use in the workplace, but some labor advocacy groups say that the federal safety agency lacks the resources necessary to make any kind of significant impact. They point out that the agency currently employs less than 800 full-time inspectors and has not seen its budget increased for several years. Visiting every workplace in the United States would take OSHA's current roster of inspectors 159 years.

Workers who have suffered injuries in occupational accidents or become sick after being exposed to toxic substances while on the job may file for workers' compensation benefits, but the process can be confusing for those unfamiliar with bureaucracy, and even minor mistakes can lead to claims being delayed or denied. Attorneys with experience in this area could assist sick or injured workers with their workers' compensation applications and advocate on their behalf if their claims are contested.

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