Grand Rapids — Forty-three people were killed on the job in Michigan last year, a big spike from 2015 that represents the state’s highest number of workplace fatalities in a decade, state figures show.
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration says 22 of those deaths were due to falls, giving Michigan more than three times more fatal workplace falls than the state agency recorded in 2015.
Last year’s 43 on the job deaths investigated by the agency represent a 48 percent increase from the 29 such deaths it recorded in 2015. The last time Michigan’s workplace was so dangerous was in 2006, when the agency recorded 52 worker deaths.
The fatalities investigated by the agency are only about a third of Michigan’s overall workplace deaths last year, MLive.com reported.
By law, the agency cannot investigate the workplace deaths of federal, aviation and train workers or the self-employed. However, a Michigan State University professor will release a statewide report on workplace deaths in June.
Peter Dooley, senior project coordinator for the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, said Michigan could do more to reduce on the job deaths. He said the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s fines for fatalities and serious violations are “pitifully low” when compared with other states and federal enforcement.
“This sends a message that it’s cheaper to violate health and safety standards rather than comply,” he said.
Federal data show that Michigan’s penalties for serious workplace violations are near the lowest amounts in the nation, with the state ranking 48th in 2014. That year, companies fined by the Michigan agency paid $4,048 on average, compared with $11,309 on average in federal fines.
In response to last year’s spike in fatal workplace falls, the Michigan agency launched a “Stop Falls, Save Lives” campaign in February. Bart Pickleman, the agency’s director, said letters sent out to high-hazard industries such as construction and tree trimming companies offering free safety training drew a modest response.
“One contributing factor for the increase in fatalities is the state’s improved economy,” Pickleman said. “There’s more construction work and work in other industries.”