Worker deaths in Indiana sink to historic low

2013-08-22T13:00:00Z 2013-08-26T15:06:05Z Worker deaths in Indiana sink to historic lowJoseph S. Pete joseph.pete@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com

Indiana workplaces have gotten safer, with the fewest fatalities on record last year, but state officials would still like to lower the number of fatal vehicle crashes.

The Indiana Department of Labor reported 113 worker deaths in 2012, the lowest since the state started tracking the number in the early 1990s. Fatalities dropped by about 7 percent from 2011, when 122 workers died on the job.

Fatalities declined in eight of the 10 biggest industries in Indiana last year, according to a news release. The biggest drop was in manufacturing, which had a 28.5 percent decrease last year.

"While we celebrate this achievement, we are reminded that Hoosier workers deserve a safe and healthy workplace, and the Indiana Department of Labor continues to push to achieve that goal," said Sean Keefer, the commissioner of the Indiana Department of Labor. "The record low number of workplace deaths means everyone, employers and employees alike, are doing a better job of protecting the Hoosier workforce. But we still have work to do to achieve a fully safe workplace environment statewide."

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks workplace deaths, both accidental and intentional, by reviewing thousands of documents, including death certificates.

Last year, construction worker deaths in Indiana rose to 20 from 19 in 2011. Deaths in the transportation and warehousing industries fell to 20, a drop of 20 percent from the year before.

The biggest improvement in the state came in manufacturing, which had 10 fatalities last year, compared to 14 in 2011. Only one of the deaths took place in the steel industry, which has a large presence in Northwest Indiana. Michael Shoemaker, a 55-year-old Hobart resident, was killed at U.S. Steel's Gary Works in January 2012 when he was wedged between two rail cars.

Statewide, about half of the occupational deaths last year were the result of transportation-related incidents. More than half of those involved vehicle crashes, which has become the biggest hazard on the job.

Early this year, the Indiana Department of Labor launched programs aimed at cutting down on fatal vehicles accidents at the workplace. The state agency has reached out to trucking companies and construction firms, and even appealed directly to semi-truck drivers through an interview on SiriusXM Radio's Road Dog Trucking show, spokesman Bob Dittmer said.

The state agency also is talking to businesses that traditionally employ teenagers, such pizza delivery businesses, about how to discourage texting while driving. Public service announcements, including one made by Gov. Mike Pence's teenage daughter Charlotte, target teens who might have summer jobs or part-time jobs during the school year.

"In the very brief about of time it takes to quickly respond to a text while driving 55 mph, during that very brief period, you travel a football field and a half in length," Dittmer said. "You're basically driving blind for 150 yards. That's nuts. It's extremely dangerous, and that's one of the things we've been trying to show."

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