Barro hopes that the West, Texas tragedy won’t overshadow the improvements the US has made in workplace safety. He points out that “4,700 Americans died in workplace-related incidents in 2010,” which is “down from 6,200 in 1992, even though the number of employed Americans rose from 109 million to 130 million over that period”:
As Matt Yglesias notes, this isn’t an artifact of sectoral shifts away from manufacturing toward services. Manufacturing work is safer than average, and its on-the-job death rate has fallen almost by half since 1994. Construction, a relatively dangerous sector, has also gotten much safer. Sectors where safety hasn’t improved include agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (which includes some of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S., logging and fishing), and transportation and warehousing.
The bulk of deaths are not due to “industrial accident” events of the type seen in West. In 2010, 40 percent of on-the-job deaths were due to transportation accidents, and an additional 18 percent were due to violence. America’s main workplace safety problems aren’t directly related to the workplace at all: They’re subsets of our general problems with road safety and violent crime.