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Occupational deaths on the rise in Georgia

An Athens chicken plant worker who died in August 2004 after a tractor-trailer backed into her and a Savannah forklift operator who fell off an elevated platform that same month are just two of the 231 fatalities compiled in a recent federal report showing Georgia had the nation's second-highest increase of on-the-job fatalities last year.

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The statistics, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in late August, showed that Georgia saw a 16 percent increase in workplace deaths in 2004 from 2003. Florida was the only state to report a greater increase than Georgia.

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Part of the increase in deaths, says Ben Ross of the Atlanta regional office of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, can be attributed to "the tremendous amount of construction going on and more immigrant workers entering the work place."

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Ross says language barriers and improper translations often cause instructions to be misinterpreted, resulting in accidents.

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Though 96 percent of Georgia's fatalities last year resulted from transportation accidents, the number of construction-site accidents did increase drastically. For instance, 23 Georgia deaths resulted from falls, which often happen at construction sites, in 2003. That number more than doubled, to 50, in 2004.

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What's more, statistics show that Hispanic workplace deaths — many resulting from trench excavations and scaffolding falls — jumped from 794 to 883 nationwide. Of those, approximately 17 percent occurred from a fall. And that's just the deaths that were reported.

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OSHA, the federal agency that regulates safety in workplaces, investigated 37 construction industry deaths in Georgia last year. So far this year, 21 have been investigated and most of them involve falls at construction sites.

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"We've got to roll up our sleeves and take a stronger stance about safety," says Rafael Villegas, executive director of the Hispanic Contractors Association of Georgia, a nonprofit that offers safety workshops and English classes to workers. "Workers need to be educated and understand how to perform work properly."



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