A total of 5,071 fatalities occurred in the workplace in 2008. This is the lowest rate since the BLS started keeping track in 1992. Just shy of five percent of these deaths (251) are suicides, the highest rate since 1992. Despite having the data, the BLS doesn't understand the reason for the suicide surge but plans to research it further.
A number of factors could be responsible for the change. For the drop in overall fatalities, a one percent decline in the number of hours worked relative to 2007. Lower workload and less time worked usually result in less fatigue and accidents, which translates to fewer deaths. The construction industry, which usually leads in workplace fatalities, showed declines ahead of other industries in hours worked. Fatal injuries in the construction sector fell 20 percent.
And, there were other favorable developments. Fatal falls slipped 20 percent year-over-year, according to the BLS. Deaths dropped for all age groups, except 16- to 17-year-old workers. Homicides at the office declined 18 percent.
The suicide rate is attributed to a seemingly universal plunge in morale, with those still employed suffering "survivor's guilt" after seeing their colleagues laid off. Even though there are signs that the economy is turning, many remain nervous that another wave could claim their jobs next. These factors can lead to depression, which could cause workers to turn to suicide.
As with any extreme, time is the likely cure. The record lows for workplace deaths and highs for suicides are expected to move toward the middle as the economy stabilizes. For now, we're stuck with the pressures of an uncertain business environment – and the anxiety of working around anxious people. Maybe the additional research the BLS plans to conduct will hold a few answers.