Injuries and Illness, Personnel Safety

NIOSH: Work-Related Deaths in Alaska Remain High After 15 Years

Researchers with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently published their findings that workers in Alaska have a higher risk of dying on the job compared to workers in other states. Work-related deaths in Alaska are three times higher than in the rest of the United States, according to NIOSH-supported research published in June in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

commercial fishing alaska

Leading Causes

NIOSH investigators reviewed work-related deaths from 2004 to 2018 as recorded in the Alaska Occupational Injury Surveillance System, which tracks workplace deaths and injuries, and found 517 work-related deaths had occurred over the 15-year period.

Most deaths were among white men working in the commercial fishing industry, with the average age of 42 for fatally injured workers. Commercial fishing is one of the most hazardous occupations in the United States, with a fatality rate 29 times higher than the national average, according to NIOSH.

The leading cause of work-related death over the 15 years studied was water vehicle incidents, accounting for 28 percent of the total number, with most of those deaths due to drowning. However, deaths in water vehicle incidents dropped from 67 throughout 2004–2008 to 35 throughout 2014–2018.

Aircraft incidents were the second-leading cause of work-related deaths in Alaska, accounting for slightly more than 20 percent of deaths. Most of the workers who died in aircraft incidents were pilots, followed by water transportation workers, and tour and travel guides.

In an effort to address pilot deaths, NIOSH created a fatigue prevention training program several years ago, intended for use by individual pilots in Alaska, as well as by companies as part of their initial or refresher training programs for pilots.

The third-leading cause of deaths in the workplace was suicide, which accounted for nearly 9 percent of deaths, with firearms as the most common method. The number of suicides rose from 4 throughout 2004–2008, to 22 throughout 2014–2018, according to researchers’ findings.

NIOSH researchers also looked at emerging workplace hazards responsible for fatal occupational injuries, including homicide and unintentional overdose. The number of homicides increased from 7 throughout 2004–2008 to 13 throughout 2014–2018. Most of the work-related homicides occurred among law enforcement officers, followed by managers, and motor vehicle operators.

The majority of unintentional overdoses occurred among commercial fishing workers.

Commercial Fishing Safety Research, Training Grants

The institute also announced the availability of commercial fishing safety research and training grants. Three million dollars in funding is available through a partnership between NIOSH and the U.S. Coast Guard to support research on improving the occupational safety of workers in the commercial fishing industry as well as provide critical occupational training. The fishing safety research cooperative agreements and the training project grants will cover 75 percent of an organization’s costs with a maximum of $975,000 per grant over a three-year period, beginning in 2022.

The application deadline for the grants is August 27, 2021.

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