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Workplace Accidents: Illinois' Death Toll Continues to Rise

Updated: Jul 15

Worker deaths are up in the entire United States, and Illinois is no exception. In 2019, the number of workplace fatalities inched up to a 12-year high. The most dangerous occupation in the state will surprise many observers.

The Most Common Causes of Worker Deaths

158 people were killed in 2019 on the job in Illinois. By far, the most common cause of death was transportation accidents. Sadly, 53 people lost their lives in work-related crashes. Many of them were truck drivers. As truck traffic increases because of online shopping, more people are behind the wheel for work. While truck driving may not seem anywhere near as dangerous as working as a police officer or firefighter, the fatality numbers tell a different story. Even construction workers do not seem to be in as much danger as truck drivers.

These days, truck drivers work in very difficult conditions. Their burden is increasing, requiring them to make deliveries under time pressure. Strict time limits on their shifts put them under the gun to get there on time when they can only drive so much. Then, the deteriorating condition of Illinois roads and more bad drivers even further increase the risk of a serious accident.

Violence and Falls Are Common Causes of Death

The second-leading cause of workplace deaths in Illinois is violence. Every year, numerous people are shot and killed in attacks while they are at work. This includes police officers, store clerks who are killed in robberies, and taxi drivers. Companies do not always properly protect their employees from risks that other people pose.

In addition, slip and falls on the job contribute to a high number of fatalities. This is most prevalent in the construction industry. This trend is expected to continue because on-the-job safety training decreased during the pandemic. Employees have been left to perform dangerous work without the face-to-face interactions necessary to prepare them. Accordingly, the problem is only going to get worse in the near future.

The 2019 numbers follow several years in which work-related deaths throughout the U.S. rose steeply. The fatality rate for workers is going up too. Fatalities are not increasing just because there are more workers. The conditions are now more dangerous for employees.

OSHA Enforcement Has Declined

One reason for the rise in workplace injuries and deaths is the decreased OSHA enforcement budget. The number of OSHA inspectors has not kept pace with the increase in workers and companies. OSHA has less ability to keep workers safe and is typically more reactive.

Knowing that they will not be inspected tempts some employers to take shortcuts that could endanger their workers. Companies have less fear that a surprise inspection will result in stiff penalties. Instead, OSHA may only investigate after a fatality has already occurred.

OSHA regulation must increase to protect workers. The agency must not only institute new regulations to meet the rising safety threats, but it must also enforce the rules that it already has. Employers must also voluntarily increase their own safety efforts beyond what OSHA even requires. Safety can actually increase productivity, and employers would realize returns on investment in reducing risks to workers.

Workers who risk their lives on the job may not be considered heroes by some. Their contributions are quiet, and these employees often get very little recognition when they die on the job. Employers frequently avoid calling attention to a dangerous workplace. Oftentimes, it is only the deceased's own family that remembers the person's contributions and the fact that he or she died doing a job.

Families Can File a Workers' Compensation Claim

Families have a legal right to receive workers' compensation benefits when their loved one has been killed on the job. This provides them with some of the financial support that they would have received had their loved one not been killed. They often speak with a workers' compensation attorney to learn more about the process and how to file a claim. Given the potential dollar value of a fatality-related settlement, legal help is generally recommended. This is their one chance to get the critical financial support that they need in the future.

Loved ones usually cannot file a personal injury lawsuit against the employer unless one of a limited number of exceptions apply. It is very difficult to file a negligence lawsuit against the employer, so workers' compensation will usually be their only route. Nonetheless, an attorney may be able to help surviving family members find out if there is a third party that they can sue for negligence. In general, victims and their families recover more money in personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits than in workers' compensation claims. A conversation with an attorney will provide much more clarity to the family's legal options.

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