Alaska leads all U.S. states in per-capita workplace deaths, according to a report from a national labor union, as nationwide death rates rise in some of the state’s major occupational fields.

The AFL-CIO released its annual Death on the Job report last week to mark Workers Memorial Day on Sunday. The report, based on federal data from 2017, lays out a series of grim statistics regarding how, when and why American workers lose their lives.

“Alaska had the highest job fatality rate in 2017, at 10.2 per 100,000 workers, followed by North Dakota (10.1), Wyoming (7.7), West Virginia (7.4), South Dakota (7.3) and Vermont (7.0),” AFL-CIO officials wrote. “New Hampshire, New Jersey and Rhode Island had the lowest state fatality rate (1.6 per 100,000 workers), followed by Connecticut (1.9) and Hawaii (2.2).”

Although the largest number of 2017 deaths, 971, took place in the nation’s construction industry, the report found that several other sectors were deadlier on a per-capita basis.

“Industry sectors with the highest fatality rates were agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (23.0 per 100,000); transportation and warehousing (15.1), mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction (12.9) and construction (9.5),” AFL-CIO officials wrote.

The report noted 81 deaths in the field of oil and gas extraction, up from 63 deaths in 2016. Mining saw 15 deaths in coal mining, with an additional 13 workers killed in metal and nonmetal mining.

“The occupations at greatest risk of experiencing work-related fatalities were fishers and related fishing workers (99.8 per 100,000); logging workers (84.3 per 100,000); and aircraft pilots and flight engineers (48.6 per 100,000),” AFL-CIO officials wrote.

The top three nationwide causes of workplace fatalities included transportation incidents and roadway crashes at 2,077 deaths, followed by 887 falling, slipping and tripping deaths and 807 deaths caused by workplace violence. Male workers face a markedly higher death rate than female workers, at 5.7 deaths per 100,000 workers versus 0.6 per 100,000.

“Men accounted for 93% of job fatalities (4,761) and women accounted for 7% (386),” AFL-CIO officials wrote. “Homicides in the workplace continue to be a disproportionate cause of death for women (22%) compared with men (8%).”

A breakdown of Alaska’s figures from the state’s AFL-CIO chapter noted that Alaska’s 2017 death rate marks a slight decrease from its 2016 rate of 10.6 deaths per 100,000 workers.

Officials with Alaska Occupational Safety and Health as well as the state Department of Law didn’t have immediate comment Monday regarding recent enforcement actions in Alaska workplace deaths.

Safety authorities in the state also have just 22 inspectors to examine 21,879 workplaces employing 322,136 workers, according to the Alaska AFL-CIO — meaning it would take 77 years to inspect all of those workplaces. The state also saw markedly lower penalties than the national average during the 2018 fiscal year for serious violations of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act — $1,676 in Alaska versus $2,729 nationwide — as well as total penalties in fatality investigations, $6,600 in Alaska versus $14,321 nationwide.

Alaska AFL-CIO president Vince Beltrami said the state has done a good job of addressing workplace safety issues as well as lesser concerns. He cited the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s decision to levy a maximum $560,000 fine against Hartman Construction in the 2015 death of worker Samuel Morgan after an Anchorage trench collapse — a collapse Beltrami said was avoidable.

Hartman Construction worker Samuel Morgan was killed in the 2015 collapse of an Anchorage trench. (Courtesy Morgan family)

“Had they taken just a little bit more time, a young man’s life would have been saved,” Beltrami said. “That was poor trenching and shoring of a ditch, was all it was; had they taken a little more time to shore that ditch back a little better or whatnot, they wouldn’t have had to deal with it.”

The state also secured a 2016 settlement of more than $850,000 in unpaid overtime for employees of the Gallo’s and Taco King restaurants, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Beltrami attributed both of those decisions to former Gov. Bill Walker’s labor commissioner, Heidi Drygas, who took a hard line against the companies involved.

“I think that was fairly indicative of a fairly aggressive state Department of Labor commissioner making sure that she wasn’t going to stand by [for] these serious violations that sometimes resulted in death on the job, sometimes resulted in underpaying not paying per the provisions of state law,” Beltrami said.

One of the Alaska AFL-CIO’s main priorities regarding workplace deaths is the Abigail Caudle Act, sponsored by state Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage. Josephson’s House Bill 30, named after an apprentice electrician who was electrocuted at an Anchorage job site in 2011, would address a loophole in state law that only pays funeral expenses to the families of single workers without dependents who die on the job.

“I’m an electrician by profession and I used to run the [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’] apprenticeship program, and there was no reason that young lady should have been working in the situation that she was,” Beltrami said.

The measure would also increase amounts, last updated more than 20 years ago, paid to workers who suffer permanent disabilities such as losing hands or limbs.

“I don’t know if it’s going to go very far, but it’s a very high priority for us at the AFL-CIO,” Beltrami said. “It’s way overdue that those amounts be increased and they do something to address the disparity, basically, in what happens with single workers who meet that terrible fate of not coming home at the end of the day.”

HB 30 had its first hearing in the House Finance Committee last week.

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