Workplace Safety

As an addendum to the post below, let me note that I worry some folks might get the impression from Mike Konczal’s post on Nickel and Dimed that America has lately become a cesspool of workplace injuries. According to Maury Gittleman and Brooks Pierce at the Bureau of Labor Statistics this is not at all the case and workplace injuries have been declining for years:

The fatality rate has also been declining, though not as sharply:

The dangerous sectors in terms of illness and injury are “transportation and warehousing” followed by manufacturing followed by “agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting” followed by construction. The picture looks a bit different for fatalities with manufacturing suddenly looking safer.

All-in-all, though, it looks like an impressive achievement to me and one the hard-working folks at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health deserve some credit for, along with overall economic progress and structural shifts into safer occupational categories. This sort of thing gets too often overlooked in the macro sense even though we’re well aware of it on the micro level. Everyone knows that the dudes on The Deadliest Catch are earning a risk/unpleasantness premium for participating in a workplace so unsafe there’s a TV show about it. This same tradeoff exists on a social level to an extent, and thanks to the declining marginal utility of money it makes sense for a richer society to start putting more emphasis on avoiding injury and death in working class occupations and less on maximizing cash wages. It’s unfortunate in this context that despite these workplace safety improvements we still seem to lag well behind peer countries in terms of overall chronic disease, perhaps due to our low-performing health care sector.


Bonus safety—mining over the long term.

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