The number of fatal injuries in America's workplaces fell 7% last year from 2011, but upticks in the construction and oil and gas industries prompted Labor Secretary Tom Perez to call for more diligence and to signal tougher enforcement ahead.
Fatal injuries in private-sector construction rose 5% to 775 in 2012 from 738 in 2011, even though the total hours worked in the industry rose just 1%, according to the preliminary results from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries issued by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics. Before the 2012 increase, fatalities in private-sector construction had declined for five consecutive years, and overall are still down 37% since 2006.
In 2012, fatal injuries in the oil and gas extraction industries rose 23% to a record 138.
The increases occurred against a more-encouraging backdrop. Overall, fatal work-related injuries fell to 4,383 last year from a revised count of 4,693 in 2011, and the rate declined to 3.2 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers from 3.5 in 2011.
"I am greatly encouraged by the reduction in workplace fatalities, even in a growing economy," Mr. Perez said in a written statement that credited "the hard work" of employers, unions, health and safety professionals, and regulators.
Still, he said, "We can and must to better. Job gains in oil and gas and construction have come with more fatalities, and that is unacceptable."
In an effort to improve the numbers, the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has undertaken multiple outreach and educational initiatives, including a campaign to prevent falls in construction and a coming event co-sponsored by employers in the oil and gas industry.
But Mr. Perez also signaled the department will be stepping up enforcement of workplace safety rules. The agency is committed to preventing "needless" deaths, and employers must meet "their legal and moral obligation to send their workers home safe every single day."
The injury data come as OSHA is investigating a new spate of deaths in the wireless industry. At least 10 workers died in falls from communications towers this year, and three more were seriously injured.
The transportation industry also continues to be particularly risky, accounting for more than two out of every five fatal work injuries in 2012. More than half of the 1,789 fatal injuries in the transportation sector were roadway incidents involving trucks and other vehicles, while 16% involved pedestrians who were struck by vehicles, many in work zones.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia reported higher workplace fatalities than in 2011, while 32 states showed declines and two states remained the same. States with notable increases include Texas and Wisconsin, while states with declines include California and Illinois.