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Date: Sun, 28 Nov 1999 22:14:32 -0600 (CST)
From: Nigel Allen <ndallen@interlog.com>
Subject: Workplace fatalities take devastating toll, new B.C. WCB
Article: 83135
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.9260.19991129061516@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Workplace fatalities take devastating toll, new B.C. WCB report shows

Workers' Compensation Board of British Columbia, press release, 28 November 1999

RICHMOND, BC, Nov. 28 - The Workers' Compensation Board of British Columbia today released a ten-year study of work-related fatalities, "Lost Lives: Work-related deaths in B.C", to increase awareness of the reality of deaths on the job and to encourage action that will eliminate workplace deaths in this province.

WCB Prevention vice-president, Roberta Ellis, said the report investigates an issue that often receives little attention in society - work-related deaths - and makes concrete recommendations about what employers, workers, families, friends, and the WCB can do to eliminate workplace deaths.

The report reveals that in the ten-year-period, from 1989 to 1998, work-related accidents and disease claimed the lives of 1,482 workers; an average of 148 people each year. The death rate was highest in the Charter Air Services industry, where the rate for the 10-year-period was 21.5, compared to 9.3 for the logging industry, 1.3 for sawmills, and 1.04 for all industries. (The rate is based on the number of deaths that occur for every 10,000 person-years-of employment. For example, the death rate of 8.0 in the mining industry means that for every 10,000 people working full-time in a one-year period, eight people died from a work-related accident or disease.)

"Any workplace death is tragic and we must never forget that every one of these numbers represents a lost life and a grieving family," said Ellis. "Equally tragic is the fact that workplace deaths are preventable. We hope this report will help all of us remember that work-related deaths can happen to anyone. It doesn't matter whether you are a farmer, a nurse, an electrician or a salesperson - no one is immune."

Accidents involving motor vehicles and industrial vehicles were the most common single-incident deaths, comprising 35 percent of all deaths. Struck-by accidents, where a worker is hit by a moving object, made up 21 percent of the deaths, while aircraft accidents comprised 11 percent of all workplace fatalities.

According to the accident pyramid theory outlined in the report, for every one workplace death there are 29 injuries requiring medical treatment, 300 minor injuries, 1,500 near misses, and 20,000 unsafe actions.

"For every life lost, there are thousands of incidents that could also have resulted in death except for a twist of fate," said Ellis. "The difference between a near miss and a death is often very slim."

Along with presenting key statistics on workplace fatalities, the report tells the stories of those whose lives have been changed forever by a workplace death. Stories about people like Ledcor construction company co-owners Dave and Cliff Lede, who know from first-hand experience that workplace health and safety is quite literally a life and death issue. The Ledes witnessed the death of their father in a workplace accident in 1980. While Ledcor's management and workers were already committed to workplace safety, the tragedy has had a lasting effect on the way they do business.

"We have a real feel for what it's like to lose a family member in a work-related accident," said Dave Lede, "so we've really put the pressure on everybody to be as safety-conscious as they possibly can."

B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair said the report successfully combines statistics and stories to make a significant impact. "The statistics and stories presented in this report paint a grave picture of the thousands of workers and families who have suffered the devastating emotional and economic hardships of a workplace death," he said. "Worse still, we know these statistics do not tell the whole story."

Jim Parker, occupational health and safety director for the Industrial Wood and Allied Workers of Canada (IWA) local 2171 echoed Sinclair's comments: "The report brings focus to the issue of work-place deaths by bringing the numbers together with the real stories in the words of the loved ones who have lost a family member," he said. "I was also reminded that for each fatality, there are numerous permanent disabilities that could have resulted in death."

Although less dramatic than workplace accidents, and far less visible, workplace diseases are responsible for more than one-quarter of all reported work-related deaths. Workplace diseases are called "slow killers" because workers usually succumb to illness long after they are exposed to hazardous substances. The impact isn't felt as strongly by co-workers because many of the workers have retired or left the workplace before they die.

Of the 379 workers who died from a work-related disease between 1989 and 1998, 52 percent were as a result of asbestosis or mesothelioma, diseases that develop after exposure to asbestos fibres. A further 20 percent of deaths are due to silicosis, a chronic lung disease that causes scarring and stiffening of the lungs.

Although these workers were exposed to hazardous substances before safe handling practices were in place, workplace illness remains a problem. Hazardous substances such as wood dust, heavy metals, paint and solvents and other causes, continue to pose a significant danger. In addition, workplace diseases like heart disease, cancer and infectious diseases continue to claim lives in some professions.

Ellis advised that the reality of deaths in the workplace is balanced by the tremendous improvements seen in health and safety in recent years. "Thanks to the efforts of employers, workers, employers' associations and unions working together with the Board, workplaces are safer than ever before," she said. "Proper training, protective equipment and stricter rules concerning hazardous substances are all helping to ensure that workers arrive home alive and healthy at the end of each day."

Ellis cautioned that despite these improvements, the statistics in this report indicate there is still much work to do. "Everyone has a part to play and the Board is here to help," she said. "Our commitment to the employers, workers and families of B.C. is to use our available resources in support of the prevention of work-related fatalities in the province. But we know we can't do it alone. We must have the commitment and the concentrated effort of every employer and worker in the province to improve workplace safety."

Copies of the report can be obtained at no charge through the WCB Films and Posters Section at (604) 276-3068 or toll-free at 1-800-661-2112, local 3068. An internet version of the report is also available on the WCB website at www.worksafebc.com.

Serving more than 1.8 million workers and 160,000 employers, the Workers' Compensation Board is a statutory agency governed by a Panel of Administrators. The WCB is committed to a safe and healthy workplace, and to providing safe, effective return-to-work rehabilitation and fair compensation to workers injured or suffering occupational disease in the course of their employment.


  • Work-related accidents and disease claimed the lives of 1,482 workers from 1989 to 1998; an average of 148 people each year or three worker fatalities each week in B.C.
  • Almost 98 % of all B.C. workers killed as a result of a work-related accident or disease are men.
  • The WCB estimates that for every one death, 29 workers sustain an injury requiring medical treatment, 300 workers sustain a minor injury, 1,500 near misses occur, and 20,000 unsafe actions are performed.
  • 74% of all work-related deaths (1,103 workers) were the result of a single-incident accident; 26% (379 workers) were a result of a work-related disease. (Single-incident deaths are work-related fatalities that occur when workers receive injuries or are exposed to large amounts of hazardous substances and die immediately or soon afterwards.)
  • In actual number of lives lost to work-place deaths, the logging industry had the highest number of deaths at 252 from 1989 to 1998.
  • The death rate (calculated on the number of deaths in an industry in relation to the number of workers employed in that industry) was highest in charter air services, with 21.5 deaths per 10,000 person-years of employment.
  • The death rates for other industries were as follows: logging (9.3), mining, not coal (8.0), trucking (4.8), farming (4.1), road building and related (3.3), building construction (2.5), heavy manufacturing (1.8), sawmills (1.3).
  • 10 industries accounted for 61 percent (909) of the 1,482 work-related deaths that occurred in B.C. from 1989 to 1998. Industries with the highest number of work-related deaths were: logging (252), trucking (126), building construction (104), heavy manufacturing (94), road building and related (86), fishing (59), mining, not coal (53), charter air services (49), sawmills (45), and farming (41).
  • Motor vehicle accidents were the most common of single-incident deaths between 1989 and 1999, with 285 accidents, or 26 % of all single-incident deaths.
  • There were 232 struck-by-object fatalities (21%); 124 incidents involving aircraft accidents (11%); 104 falls from elevations (9%); 102 industrial vehicle accidents (9%); 75 boat accidents (7%); 56 caught-in-equipment or between objects accidents (5%); 35 electrical contact accidents (3%); and 90 accidents classified as other (8%).


  • The charter air service industry is the most dangerous industry in B.C. for fatalities, with 21.5 deaths per 10,000 people working in a one-year-period.
  • A total of 124 workers were killed in aircraft accident deaths in the ten-year-period, 1989 to 1998.
  • 62% of all aircraft accidents involved an airplane crash; 77 deaths between 1989 and 1998.
  • 32% percent of all aircraft deaths involved helicopters; 40 deaths between 1989 and 1998.
  • There was one death resulting from an ultralight accident between 1989 and 1998.
  • Workers who died in work-related aircraft accidents worked in professions and jobs such as the charter air service, heli-skiing or sport fishing operations, or flying workers into remote worksites. Workers were also killed while serving the logging industry.
  • The death rate for the charter air service does not include workers from other industries who may be killed in aircraft crashes. For every air service worker killed in a crash, several more workers from other industries such as logging, mechanics or tree planting, may also lose their lives.


  • Between 1989 and 1998 there were 232 struck-by-object deaths.
  • 30% of workers killed in a struck-by-object accident were hit by a tree; 70 deaths between 1989 and 1998.
  • 20% of workers killed in a struck-by-object accident were hit by a log; 47 deaths between 1989 and 1998. (A log is typically a tree that has been felled, or cut.)
  • 14% of workers killed in a struck-by-object accident were hit by an unstable or improperly restrained load; 33 deaths between 1989 and 1998.
  • 10% of workers killed in a struck-by-object accident were hit by a rock, mud or snowslide; 23 deaths between 1989 and 1998.
  • 6% of workers killed in a struck-by-object accident were hit by an improperly parked vehicle; 15 deaths between 1989 and 1998.
  • Other accidents in which a worker is struck-by-an object involved: a crane counterweight; a piece of rebar; a chain saw that kicked back; a pry bar that slipped; and a piece of railway track hit by a hammer.
  • A common cause of struck-by-object, or caught-between-objects accidents, is failure to properly lock out equipment, although this is not reflected in the statistics. Improper lockout is not reflected in WCB statistics because accidents are typically classified into accident types rather than accident causes. (Lockout is the use of a lock or locks by a worker to prevent anyone else from operating or accidentally turning on equipment, or to isolate or restrain an energy source.)


  • Between 1989 and 1998 there were 285 work-related motor vehicle accident death claims.
  • 41% of all motor vehicle accidents that occurred while a worker was on the job involved a single vehicle that lost control as a result of excessive speed for the road conditions, mechanical failure, or another reason; for a total of 118 accidents between 1989 and 1998.
  • 29% of the motor vehicle accidents that occurred while a worker was on the job involved an unknown number of vehicles; 83 accidents between 1989 and 1998.
  • 17% of the motor vehicle accidents that occurred while a worker was on the job involved multiple vehicles; 48 accidents between 1989 and 1998.
  • 8% of the motor vehicle accidents that occurred while a worker was on the job involved an unseen pedestrian; 23 accidents between 1989 and 1998.
  • 2% of the motor vehicle accidents that occurred while a worker was on the job involved a road or bridge collapse; 6 accidents between 1989 and 1998.
  • The number of workers that died in work-related motor vehicle accidents is actually much higher than these statistics indicate. This is because when an MVA death occurs, a worker's dependents have the right to sue directly. If they choose to do so, the death is not included in WCB statistics.


  • There were 102 accepted IVA death claims between 1989 and 1998.
  • A worker involved in an IVA may be an equipment operator or a pedestrian hit by the equipment. IVAs typically involve skidders, loaders, and forklifts, but can also involve trains, tractors, ride-on mowers, or electric stand-on forklifts.
  • Industrial vehicles are used in a variety of industries including tree planting, farming, oil pipeline applications, lumberyards, mills and warehouses.
  • IVAs involving an unseen pedestrian made up 29% of the accepted claim deaths; 26% involved an unlicensed vehicle (other than a skidder) that lost control or rolled over; and 13% involved a skidder that lost control and rolled over.
  • IVA deaths that have occurred in the past ten years include an engineer who drowned in a lake when a train derailed, and a forklift operator who was pinned underneath a forklift when it overturned.


  • Falls from elevations accounted for more than 9% of all single-incident deaths in B.C. from 1989 to 1998; a total of 104 deaths.
  • Workers who died as a result of a fall work in a variety of occupations including roofers, construction workers, firefighters, window cleaners, and farmers.
  • The most common accidents were: falls from a building (21%); falls from a ladder or stairs (13%); falls due to a structural collapse or failure (8%); falls from a scaffolding or platform (8%); falls from a vehicle (7%); and falls from a floor or roof opening (4%).


  • Work-related diseases claimed the lives of 379 people between 1989 and 1998; representing 26% of all work-related disease deaths in B.C.
  • Lung diseases accounted for 72% of the 379 work-related disease deaths in B.C. Most of these deaths were caused by exposure to asbestos particles or silica dust.
  • 52% of all work-related disease deaths were a result of asbestosis or mesothelioma diseases that developed after exposure to asbestos fibres. A further 20% of deaths were due to silicosis, a chronic lung disease that causes scarring and stiffening of the lungs.
  • Other work-related diseases that occur include cancers such as lung or bladder cancer that occur when workers are exposed to asbestos, coal-tar pitch, benzene and volatiles like tar and pitch fumes.

Guidelines for Employers, Supervisors and Workers To Prevent Workplace Fatalities and Disease

It is recommended that employers/supervisors:

  1. Create a written occupational health and safety policy.
  2. Provide workers with specific job instructions and ensure that they follow the instructions.
  3. Hold regular crew talks to discuss safety issues with workers.
  4. Conduct formal safety inspections and have a worker representative present.
  5. Conduct informal daily inspections to ensure that workers are following safe work procedures.
  6. Ensure workers have access to, are instructed in, and use, required personal protective equipment.
  7. Participate in all joint health and safety committees.
  8. Conduct accident investigations.
  9. Ensure that equipment is properly maintained and inspected.
  10. Train and supervise workers.

It is recommended that workers:

  1. Follow safe work procedures.
  2. Understand any training undertaken and use it.
  3. Notify supervisors or employers of new hazards or other problems.
  4. Participate in a joint workplace health and safety committee.
  5. Use personal protection equipment, and use it properly.
  6. Look out for themselves - and one another.

It is also recommended that families and friends remind loved ones going to the workplace to work safely and not take chances.

For further information: Karen Zukas, Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives and Public Affairs Prevention Division, (604) 276-5159, toll free in B.C. (888) 621-7233, local 5077