WASHINGTON – The number of job-related deaths in Maryland spiked to a 10-year high of 102 last year, up sharply from the 64 deaths recorded just a year earlier, according to state statistics.
Officials at the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation could not explain the increase, which was seen in all job categories except manufacturing and finance.
“We didn’t have any cataclysmic events that caused them to spike,” said Steve Bisson, statistical administrator for Maryland Occupational Safety and Health.
The increase in the Maryland Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries came as the number of work-related deaths nationally fell 6.6 percent, to the lowest level ever.
Maryland, meanwhile, reached the highest number of such deaths since 1992, the first year of the census, when there were 103 work-related fatalities in the state. Maryland had averaged 82.3 work deaths a year before last year.
“We’re normally in the low 80s, but we saw an increase,” said Keith Goddard, commissioner of the Division of Labor and Industry. “But you’re talking about a workforce of 2.4 million people. One is too much for us, but you have to put it in that perspective.”
The census records work-related deaths in private industries, the public sector and the military, and includes those who are self employed as well as some volunteers.
In 2002, 36.3 percent of those deaths in Maryland were transportation-related, 22.5 percent were homicides, 14.7 percent involved contact with objects and equipment, 14.7 percent were due to falls, 8.8 percent were caused by exposure to harmful substances or environments and 2.9 percent were caused by fires or explosions.
The number of deaths went up across all of the industries listed except for manufacturing, where deaths dropped from seven to three, and finance, insurance and real estate. That category recorded four deaths in 2001 and none in 2002.
“What’s disconcerting is that you look at this and there are increases across the board,” said Deborah Weinstock, occupational safety and health specialist for the AFL-CIO. “If it’s focused on a particular industry or a couple of industries, maybe you can figure out what the hazard is. But this is just, I guess, a little odd.”
The most hazardous major industry remains construction, accounting for 25 deaths, or nearly one-quarter of the 2002 total.
“That’s still the most hazardous place to work,” Goddard said. “So it’s a predominant focus for us because of the fatalities occurring there.”
Goddard said more than half of the inspections conducted by the Maryland Occupational Safety and Hazard inspectors are in construction.
Goddard called the 2002 numbers an “anomaly.” With no one event accounting for the overall increase in deaths, labor officials said they do not see a trend.
“I have no way of predicting where they will go,” Goddard said. “That’s driven by the economy, driven by construction, by traffic, so many variables.”
Nationally, the 2002 work-related fatality count was the lowest ever recorded by the fatality census. Exposure to harmful substances or environments — such as extreme temperatures causing heat stroke — was the only category that increased in the national census.