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Take a moment for Florida workers who lost their lives

Welder Clark White, 65, lost his life in June when an old Progress Energy power plant he was helping dismantle collapsed on St. Petersburg's Weedon Island.

Justin Honeycutt, 30, died in July from a fall while working on the Magical Midway Thrill Park's Starflyer ride, billed as "America's only carousel on steroids," on International Drive in Orlando.

Road crew worker Robert Armstrong, 19, was busy removing a speed limit sign on Interstate 75 near Brandon when he was hit and killed by a truck. And Wednesday, a worker in Naples was killed when a forklift ran him over.

Before these four and likely hundreds more become 2011 statistics on Florida workplace fatalities, take a moment for each of them and their families.

The recent serious injury, combined with a death earlier this year, at the Pepsi plant in Tampa, reminded me of the steady beat of workplace deaths. Now two federal investigations are under way there. The first involves Sunday's incident that crushed the leg of Christian Lee Vance while he cleaned the plant's conveyor system. The second investigation examines a March accident that killed contract worker Nathaniel Sullivan and hurt another.

We don't hear much about workplace deaths in Florida. But there are too many of them.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data released late last month show an average of just over four workers died every week. That's 215 workplace fatalities last year in Florida.

Crazy as it sounds, that's a 12 percent improvement over 2009 when 245 workers died. In '09, Florida ranked third in workplace deaths behind No. 1 Texas and No. 2 California. Last year, Florida fell to No. 4 behind Texas (still No. 1), California (No. 2) and No. 3 Pennsylvania, which had a 30 percent increase with 219 fatalities.

Sadly, Florida's lower tally last year is not a credit to any big step forward in safety. More likely, the decrease is due to the recession. Fewer Floridians were at work in 2010, which means fewer chances for harm.

Many died, as they usually do in workplace incidents, in vehicle-related accidents. (See the box for a breakdown on fatality causes.)

Nationwide, 4,547 died in workplace incidents in 2010, four fewer fatalities than in 2009. Two multiple-fatality incidents stood out last year: 29 of 31 miners killed in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, and 11 men who died on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to BLS nationwide figures, fatal work injuries in the private construction sector declined by 10 percent from 2009 to 2010 and are down nearly 40 percent since 2006. Of course, construction is the hardest-hit industry in the recent recession, with the greatest loss of jobs.

Also of note: work-related fatalities resulting from fires more than doubled from 53 in 2009 to 109 in 2010 — the highest count since 2003. And while workplace homicides declined 7 percent in 2010 to the lowest total ever recorded by the fatality census, workplace homicides involving women increased by 13 percent.

And finally, the nationwide number of fatal workplace injuries among police officers increased by 40 percent, from 96 in 2009 to 134 in 2010.

Those numbers are rising here, too. In the Tampa Bay area, two police officers were killed in the line of duty in 2009 and three in 2010. So far in 2011, four have died.

Please, Florida workers. Let's be careful out there.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com.

.Fast facts

How 215 workers died in Fla. in 2010

88 transportation accidents

46 assaults or violent acts

32 falls

28 exposure to harmful substances or environments

19 contact with objects and equipment

2 other causes

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Take a moment for Florida workers who lost their lives 08/31/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 11:28pm]

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