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Workplace deaths decrease dramatically in Brevard, nationally Time:2017/01/19 14:51:26 Hit:778

In 2009, three people died in workplace accidents in Brevard County. That was down from 15 just three years earlier.


There have been similar decreases across the state and nation.


If there is an upside to the recession, this may be it, because the drop is due in part to the dramatic slowdown in recent years in the construction industry. That¡¯s historically one of the sectors with the highest rate of workplace deaths and injuries.


But that alone doesn¡¯t explain the drop. In fact, workplace deaths have been on a downward trend for years:


In 1970, nearly 14,000 workers were killed on the job nationwide, or 18 for every 100,000 workers. In 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, 4,300 were killed on the job, a rate of 3.3 per 100,000.

When Florida began keeping records on workplace fatalities in 1992, 329 Floridians died on the job. In 2009, 243 were killed on the job, the lowest number since record-keeping began.

The rate of workplace injuries and illnesses also has dropped sharply nationwide, from 8.4 per 100 workers in 1994 to 3.9 per 100 in 2009.

Many experts credit the improvements to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency that oversees workplace safety, and which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this spring.


¡°OSHA has had a major hand in saving lives and improving work-related health benefits,¡± said Jay Quarless of West Melbourne, who for decades handled dangerous chemicals used in the manufacturing of electronic circuit boards.


Quarless said when he started out in the industry in Milwaukee, he would routinely come into contact with chemical compounds such as tulene, acetone and trichlorethylene. ¡°I was just a young whippersnapper. I couldn¡¯t care less about environmental stuff,¡± he said of his mindset at the time.


An OSHA visit to the plant in the 1980s, though, changed things.


After that, all workers had to wear a breathing mask and protective gloves whenever entering the area with the chemicals. ¡°Health issues were definitely improved,¡± Quarless said.


That was the goal when OSHA was created under President Richard Nixon. The agency was officially established April 28, 1971.


Since then, the rate of workplace deaths and injuries has dropped 65 percent.


In recent years, OSHA has stepped up efforts in Florida, especially in the construction industry, said Cindy Coe, OSHA¡¯s regional administrator for the Southeast. ¡°I came here in 2000, and I was quite dismayed by the number of workplace deaths in this region,¡± said Coe, who works out of the agency¡¯s regional headquarters in Atlanta.


During the past decade, OSHA has taken a number of steps to improve workplace safety in Florida:


In 2001, it set up a database to track workplace fatalities in the region.

It changed the way it investigated workplace accidents. ¡°It isn¡¯t about just finding violations,¡± Coe said. ¡°It is about figuring out what happened so it won¡¯t happen again.¡±

The agency stepped up surveys of construction sites around the states. And from 2007 to 2009, the agency would announce in advance the one week each quarter it would ¡°sweep¡± Florida construction sites looking for violations. That led to increases in companies inquiring how they could comply with OSHA regulations. ¡°We saw a dramatic decrease in fatalities,¡± Coe said.

Some, though, say that it is too expensive to follow some of agency¡¯s regulations.


¡°Many of the regulations imposed by OSHA require elaborate and expensive equipment,¡± says Marcus Collier of Melbourne, who has worked in the construction industry for more than 20 years. ¡°Often, it is difficult to incorporate this equipment based on the design of a building or the time frame in which construction must be performed.¡±


Coe said OSHA considers the economic costs of its regulations. ¡°We always look at the cost impact it is going to have on a business and weigh that against the benefits we expect.¡±


Quarless said the increased costs are worth it.


¡°It may have been costly to implement nationally improved standards, but human life and well being were worth it.¡±