Md.'s top on-job killer: auto wrecks Homicides are No. 2 cause, study finds

April 22, 1993|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer

Marylanders are far more likely to be killed while driving on the job, or slain by a co-worker or customer, than in an industrial accident, a study of workplace deaths has found.

In its first extensive survey of fatal workplace accidents, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported yesterday that one-third of the 79 workplace deaths in Maryland recorded in 1991 were caused by traffic accidents.

Maryland's death-by-traffic-accident rate matched those of the 31 other states studied, but the homicide rate here was twice the average of the other states. Homicide was the sole cause of death for the six women killed at work in Maryland in 1991.

In all, 21 of the deaths -- more than a quarter of the total -- were homicides. That figure made such violence the second-leading cause of workplace death.

Further down Maryland's list were the traditional causes of workplace deaths: Falls were blamed for 16 percent of the fatalities; drownings or exposure to harmful substances accounted for 11 percent; and machines or falling objects were blamed for 10 percent of the deaths.

The fatalities were divided racially almost exactly according to each racial group's share of the population. Nearly one-quarter of workers who were killed were black.

Workers and government officials said yesterday that they were surprised to find that homicide was such a common cause of death at work. But they said the statistics reflected the shrinking of often-dangerous manufacturing employment, as well as the growing violence of society in general.

"It is a sign of the times," said Sue Fitzsimmons, a spokeswoman forthe Baltimore City Department of Social Services. "It has nothing to do with workplaces. Violence is such a pervasive part of our society now."

In the two years since the stabbing death of a social worker, Tanja Brown-O'Neal, at a Rosemont office in June 1991, Ms. Fitzsimmons saidshe has lost her fearlessness.

In the late 1970s, as a social worker, she never worried, even though she would sometimes go alone to dangerous neighborhoods to investigate claims of child abuse.

But now, although she is an office worker, Ms. Fitzsimmons says, she has begun asking herself: "Are my doors locked? Should I buy a gun?"

In the past, the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted workplace fatalities through newspaper articles and other unofficial sources, which led it to dramatically underestimate the number of deaths, said Maureen Greene, a spokeswoman for the federal agency.

And in its first partial study, she said, the bureau found that "the causes of death aren't what people think, like a guy getting caught in a machine."

Although Maryland's statistics indicated that homicides are more prevalent here than in some other states, Ms. Greene noted that in New York City, for example, homicide is the top cause of workplace death.

The new statistics, she said, could make safety officials and others rethink programs for workplaces.

Craig Lowry, who heads the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health office, said his office sometimes investigates work-related traffic accidents and homicides. And, he said, the federal Occupational Safetyand Health Administration is considering rules to improve driver safety for workers.

But he said he doesn't know what the state safety agency can do to cut the number of homicides at work.

Mr. Lowry said that traffic accidents have always been a leading cause of work-related death and injury but that he was surprised by the homicide total for 1991.

Despite yesterday's report, Mr. Lowry noted that Maryland generally has safer-than-average workplaces.

The 1991 study will be followed by a nationwide study of 1992 statistics next year, the bureau said.

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