City's No. 1 workplace hazard: homicide

December 09, 1993|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Staff Writer

Homicide was the cause of more than twice as many on-the-job deaths of Baltimore workers in 1992 as all other causes combined, a new U.S. government study shows. Half of those workplace slayings were by gunshot.

This latest study contradicted many widely held assumptions about what is the chief threat to human life in the urban workplace and raised perplexing questions about how to make it safer.

"Most people would think of workplace fatalities as getting mangled in a machine, or falling from a high place," said Alan M. Paisner, regional commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which conducted the study.

"The fact that in the city, homicide is the leading cause of workplace deaths should not only change the perception but also change what policy-makers have to do to deal with it," he said.

The new BLS study found that in the city, 14 people died in the workplace in 1992, of whom 10, or 71 percent, were homicide victims.

The study examined the Baltimore Metropolitan Area and separately reviewed Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard and Carroll counties.

Its findings reinforced results of other studies, especially a recurring discovery that homicide is the No. 1 workplace killer of women. All five women who died in work-related incidents in the metropolitan area in 1992 were homicide victims.

Of 57 people who died in work-related incidents in 1992 in the metropolitan area, the study found that 20, or 35 percent, were homicide victims. Sixteen, or 28 percent, were victims of transportation accidents, either on the road or within the premises of the workplace.

Among accidental causes -- more commonly pictured as workplace killers -- electric shock, which ranked third after transportation and homicide with nine deaths, or 16 percent, was the most frequent killer.

The 1992 study is a variation on one the BLS undertook earlier this year using 1991 statistics. That earlier study, which dealt with statewide figures, showed that for 1991, the leading cause of workplace deaths in Maryland was traffic accidents. In that study, the No.2 cause was homicides, in which Marylanders died at about twice the U.S. average rate.

The new study, the Baltimore Area Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, was conducted jointly with the Maryland Division of Labor and Industry.

BLS is compiling similar figures for other parts of the United States.

The BLS finding was consistent with a growing body of studies showing that homicide is a leading cause of workplace deaths.

Last month, a study showed that for the decade of the 1980s, homicide was the leading cause of job-related deaths in Maryland, four other states and the District of Columbia. The other four states were Alabama, Connecticut, Michigan and South Carolina.

That study, covering the years 1980-1989 and conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, showed that 180 people were slain while at work in Maryland over those years.

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