- The transportation and warehousing industries had some of the highest rates of fatal work injuries in 2016, according to new data released from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- The total number of fatal workplace injuries last year was more than 5,000, the highest number since 2008.
- Pilots and truck drivers were among the top 10 most dangerous occupations, with driver/sales workers and truck drivers seeing a total of 918 fatal injuries last year.
Whether it’s land, air or sea, transportation carries a risk for the operator and passengers. Federal and state regulations aim to make these critical modes of transit safer, although strict rules can also make workers’ jobs more difficult.
Monday’s Amtrak train derailment in Washington state shows the fatal risks of ignoring regulations. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board said the train was traveling 80 mph in a 30 mph zone. Positive train control (PTC), which can automatically stop a train, was not in use, according to Amtrak’s president.
Electronic logging devices (ELDs) are another prime example of balancing risk and regulation. The newly-imposed mandate is designed to increase safety for truck drivers by preventing them from driving too many hours at once. But many drivers aren't accustomed to electronic logging. For example, a driver with an ELD must take exactly 30 minutes for lunch, not 15 or 25.
It remains to be seen how implementation and enforcement of ELDs will progress. Although the mandate took effect earlier this week, penalties won’t be enforced until next April. A recent survey found about 25% of carriers hadn't complied with ELD by Monday's deadline.
If the regulation in any way follows the pattern of PTC, it will be a long road ahead. Laws requiring PTC were initially passed in 2008, but full compliance wasn't required until the end of 2015. That deadline was later extended to the end of 2018.
Statically speaking, commercial aviation is one of the safest ways for passengers to travel. Although that statistic doesn't seem to apply to workers. Aircraft pilots and flight engineers had the third highest rate of fatal work injuries, after loggers and fishers.
The Air Line Pilots Association, a union representing nearly 60,000 pilots, advocates for regulation from the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure safety standards are enforced.
In many ways, the debate over regulation boils down to ideology. Some believe the government needs to step in and regulate critical industries. Others believe self-regulation and privatization are the way to go.
Regardless of one’s point of view, protecting the safety of transportation workers is essential. If the latest data from BLS are indicative of a continuing trend, unfortunately the numbers don't look good.