WASHINGTON - The number of fatal occupational injuries nationwide dropped to 4,609 in 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said, down from 4,690 the year before. Virtually the entire decline was in construction and coal mining, the data show.
BLS said the ongoing impact of the Great Recession, which left more than one out of every seven construction workers jobless last year, accounted for decline in fatalities there. There were 721 fatal injuries in construction in 2011, and 774 the year before.
"The number of fatal work injuries in the private construction sector declined by seven percent," BLS said. "Fatal work injuries in construction have declined every year since 2006 and are down nearly 42 percent over that time.
"Economic conditions may explain much of this decline. Despite the lower fatal injury total, construction accounted for the second most fatal work injuries of any sector in 2011 with transportation and warehousing having the most fatal work injuries."
BLS added coal-mining deaths declined from 43 in 2010 to 17 last year. It noted in 2010, the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia exploded, killing 29 miners.
The overall death rate on the job also declined in 2011, to 3.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers. It was 3.6 per 100,000 the year before.
One of every seven workers - some 666 - killed on the job fell to his or her death last year, again emphasizing the need for fall protection. The Obama administration's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been working towards a stronger fall protection standard, especially in residential construction. The home building industry has egged on congressional Republicans to resist.
"Falls to a lower level accounted for 541 of those fatalities," BLS said. "In 2011, the height of the fall was reported in 451 of the 541 fatal falls. Of those 451 cases, about one in four (115) occurred after a fall of 10 feet or less. Another fourth (118) occurred from a fall of over 30 feet."
Fatal injuries in transportation and warehousing rose by 11 percent, to 733 in 2011, overtaking construction. It was the highest total since 2008.
"Fatal injuries in truck transportation, the largest subsector within transportation and warehousing in employment, increased by 14 percent in 2011, led by a 16 percent fatality increase in general freight trucking and a 12 percent increase in specialized freight trucking," BLS said.
Of the fatally injured workers, 492 were so-called independent contractors."
Photo: Police direct traffic away from the area of the Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 workers were killed. Jeff Gentner/AP