Any workplace injury can be serious for the worker. But it seems especially cruel when a workplace injury is fatal. A worker leaves home in the morning as they have done for years or even decades, and then one day that worker's loved one receives the phone call that no one ever wants to receive.
Workers compensation law provides a range of benefits to the families of workers who pass away as the result of a covered workplace injury.
In Pennsylvania, workers are covered by workers' compensation, which provides benefits for injured or ill workers, but it also provides a death benefit to the family member of a worker who dies on the job.
A surviving spouse, child or another family member who was a dependent of the deceased worker may qualify to receive death benefits from workers' compensation if their loved one died of a compensable workplace injury. In Pennsylvania, the beneficiary would receive a $3,000 funeral expense benefit, and a percentage of the deceased worker's salary. This benefit is available to the surviving spouse until they remarry. If they do remarry, they may receive the final two years of the death benefit in a lump sum payment.
Children under age 18, unless they are dependent because of a disability, can receive death benefits directly if there is no spouse who is entitled to receive the benefit.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) keeps track of occupational industries on a state and national level. In 2016 there were 163 total fatal occupational injuries in Pennsylvania. This is how those numbers are broken down regarding the cause of these deaths:
- Transportation accidents: 55
- Contact with objects and equipment: 35
- alls, slips and trips: 35
- Exposure to harmful substances or environments: 20
- Violence and other injuries by persons or animals: 17
- Fires and explosions: 1
Of the 2016 Pennsylvania workplace fatalities, 145 were men, 9 were women. White, (non-Hispanic) men over age 45 had the most workplace fatalities in Pennsylvania in 2016.
The federal agency tasked with protecting the safety of workers in the U.S. is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA used to maintain on its home page of its website a running list of all workers who were killed on the job including the worker's name, the date and cause of death. The list included every worker death that had been reported to OSHA whether the company was issued a citation or not. In 2017 the list was removed from the home page, and was replaced with information on how companies can cooperate with OSHA to reduce safety risks for their employees.
The fatality list is now buried on an internal page on the website, and does not include workers who were killed on the job if their employer was not issued an OSHA citation for safety violations. This change leaves about 20% of worker deaths off of the list. A Labor Department spokeswoman said that the change would protect the privacy of the victims' families, and it would make public data more accurate.