On-the-job fatalities in Oregon increase

SALEM — Sixty-one people died on the job in Oregon during 2016, according to a preliminary report issued March 7 by the Department of Consumer and Business Services (DCBS). That’s up from 2015’s figure of 41 deaths. [The Workers Memorial Day list contains 66 names because it was updated more recently.]

The 61 figure is based on a new data collection program, begun in 2015, that is designed to provide a more comprehensive review of workplace deaths. Previously released figures included only deaths covered by the Oregon workers’ compensation system. The new Workplace Fatalities in Oregon (WFO) program tracks on-the-job deaths, regardless of workers’ compensation status. As a result, the program now also includes workplace deaths involving self-employed people, city of Portland police and fire employees, federal employees, and incidents occurring in Oregon to workers with out-of-state employers.

“While Oregon workplaces are safer today than in previous decades, there are still far too many preventable on-the-job deaths each year,” said Michael Wood, administrator for the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Oregon OSHA). “A dramatic increase such as we saw last year helps to drive that lesson home. And it certainly serves as a reminder that we must do more in our struggle against death in the workplace.”

Because the WFO program started in 2015, comprehensive data — including total workplace deaths and numbers specific to industry, occupation, and injury — are available only for 2015 and 2016. Based on WFO guidelines, however, total workplace deaths were estimated for 2012 through 2014. Total fatality counts in 2012, 2013, and 2014 were 40, 49, and 63, respectively, meaning that 2015 was one of the lowest totals in recent years and 2016 was one of the highest. Averaged over five years, there were approximately 51 on-the-job deaths annually.

Other highlights of the WFO report:

  • Nearly half (29) of all 61 workplace deaths in 2016 were due to motor vehicle accidents, while 28 percent (17) of workers died due to contact with objects.
  • The agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry had the most workplace fatalities (24) in 2016 – nearly double 2015’s figure of 13.
  • Twenty-eight of the 61 workplace deaths were accepted compensable fatalities.
  • There were three events in 2016 that led to multiple deaths:
  • Three fishermen died when their boat sank.
  • Two sales associates were killed in a head-on collision.
  • Two construction workers were killed in a motor vehicle accident.

The WFO program excludes deaths in the workplace that are not directly linked to a work activity or harmful work exposure, such as suicides.

Car crash kills union organizer in Oregon

A union organizer was among the more than five dozen workers who died on the job in Oregon in 2016.

Linda Cushing, a national representative/organizer for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and a former staff director for Portland-based Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals Local 5017, died in a car accident on the afternoon of March 21, 2016.

A resident of Fullerton, California, Cushing, 69, was in Oregon working on healthcare organizing efforts, including the campaign for LPNs and techs at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver. She was driving on U.S. Highway 26 near Warm Springs — reportedly on her way to a meeting of hospital techs who wanted to form a union —when her car crossed the center line and crashed head-on with an SUV.

A former adjunct college professor, Cushing got the organizing bug after helping her colleagues unionize in Orange County California. She was hired by AFT and later was assigned to work with Local 5017.

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