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Utah records sharp increase in fatal job-related accidents

The upside of all of the construction in Utah is the boost for the economy, but with every good thing there usually is a downside.

In 1996, Utah had 64 fatal work-related accidents, 13 more than in 1995. Nearly half of the construction fatalities involved trenching and excavation accidents connected to construction, according to Jay Bagley, director of the Utah Labor Com-mission's Occupational Safety and Health Division."Soil is definitely unforgiving to the worker when it collapses, and the employer has not ensured a safe workplace for employees," Bagley said in releasing the work-related fatality figures for last year. In addition to the people killed in cave-ins, four others died when their clothing got caught in machinery.

Using figures supplied by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bagley said he is unsure why the number of fatalities differs every year. Utah had 66 work-related fatalities in 1993 and also in '94.

Other Utah fatalities involved transportation accidents, falls, assaults and violent acts, exposure to harmful substances and oxygen deficiency. Those figures remained about the same in 1996 as they were in 1995.

Utah Labor Commissioner R. Lee Ellertson said one workplace accident is too many, and he is focusing his efforts on reducing the 80,392 work-related injuries that occurred in 1996.

He said the commission provides free consultants to businesses wanting to establish a safety program, and it also is involved in a media campaign to stress the importance of being safe on the job. Ellertson said injuries reduce productivity, hurt morale and sometimes affect workers compensation insurance premiums.

Workers compensation insurance premiums have seen double-digit decreases in each of the last four years, and he wants to keep the momentum going by zeroing in on safety.

The fatality figures showed that 61 men died in work-related accidents last year compared to three women; 58 of the 64 workers killed worked in private industry; men younger than 24 accounted for 17 of the fatalities; and truck drivers accounted for 10 of the 16 job-related highway deaths last year, Bagley said.

He said occupations that doubled their number of fatalities in 1996 were technical, sales and administrative support; farming and forestry; and precision production, craft and repair. The number of fatalities for operators, fabricators and laborers remained about the same last year.