1996 may have been a great year economically for the plastics processing industry, but for at least 17 people in the United States the work was fatal.
The U.S. Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, a department within the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on Aug. 7 released its count of all the U.S. workers killed in work-related incidents for 1996.
CFOI numbers are broken down in a number of ways, including by Standard Industrial Classification codes maintained by the U.S. Department of Commerce. SIC code 308, where the 17 deaths occurred, covers much of the plastics processing industry, but not all.
Other plastics-related deaths may have occurred in SIC codes where plastics workers cannot be distinguished from those using other materials.
The 17 known plastics fatalities in 1996 bring the total of industry workers killed to 102 since 1992, the year the census began. Fourteen died because of their jobs in 1995. Previous years alternated between 24 and 23 fatalities each.
``Hazards abound for [plastics] workers,'' CFOI manager Guy Toscano wrote in a special report on the fatalities requested by Plastics News. CFOI will not release information about individual incidents, but Toscano agreed to summarize some of the causes of deaths in the industry.
``Workers are killed under various circumstances,'' Toscano wrote. ``Some are electrocuted, some are burned, others are crushed by equipment ... a small number are fatally injured cleaning molding machines or crushed between rollers on accumulators; others are caught in paddles in mixing vats or fall into mixing vats and drown. A few are killed when clothing is caught and pulled into machinery.''
The five-year breakdown by CFOI showed ``contact with objects and equipment'' killed 35 plastics workers, the most common cause of fatalities over the time period. The majority of those workers, 25, died from being caught in running machinery. The second most common cause was ``transportation incidents,'' which accounted for about a quarter of the industry's deaths.
Falls killed 10 plastics workers. Electrocutions accounted for nine deaths. Seven workers died from fires and explosions, while six were killed by ``assaults and violent acts.''
Although the individual cases may be tragic, plastics processing was by no means the most dangerous industry. Of the 6,112 job-related deaths recorded nationwide in 1996, far more occurred in the trucking and retail sectors, the results of accidents and homicides, respectively. More than 1,000 of U.S. workers killed last year were involved in construction.
A June 23 Plastics News report using Occupational Safety and Health Administration records and news accounts found 11 work-related fatalities in the plastics industry during 1996. The newly released CFOI numbers are more complete.
Using a combination of OSHA reports, coroners' reports, death records and other sources, the census is considered the most complete account of the numbers and causes of workplace deaths in the country.
Fatality numbers for Canadian plastics workers are harder to come by. There is no central clearinghouse for that information as there is in the United States. Each province collects its own statistics.