(September 22, 2014) On Nov. 23, 2013, 26-year-old Tyson Barnette was shot multiple times while delivering the mail in Landover, Maryland. On Feb. 26, 2013, federal corrections officer Eric Williams was stabbed with a homemade weapon at the high-security Canaan penitentiary in Pennsylvania.
In 2013 57 federal employees were killed on the job, according to preliminary data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is up from 54 in 2012 and 41 in 2011.
The numbers include federal civilian employees within the United States and not civilians overseas, such as Foreign Service or intelligence workers. They exclude employees who died because of an illness, and they exclude military personnel.
For a workforce of a little over 2 million, that works out to roughly one fatality for every 36,000 employees. That compares well to the private sector, which saw 3,929 job-related fatalities in 2013 out of about 117 million people — or about one fatality for every 29,700 workers.
Seventeen mail carriers were killed on the job, the highest number of any agency, according to the BLS. Seven federal law enforcement officers were killed.
The biggest cause of death among federal workers was transportation-related accidents, such as car crashes or being struck by a vehicle. There were 29 transportation-related deaths for federal employees in 2013.
Federal employees killed in violent acts fell last year, from 17 in 2012 to 12 in 2013, according to BLS.
Jim Stanley, former deputy assistant secretary of the Labor Department and safety consultant, said the federal government compares well to the private sector.
He added worker deaths that can be foreseen and prevented — such as those related to working conditions — were “immeasurably low” because most federal employees are in office-related positions as opposed to some of the more dangerous areas of the private sector.
“There is certainly more that the federal government can do, but I think just by the nature of the beast the numbers are low,” Stanley said. “It seems like you are safer working in the federal government than in most other industries.”
He said agencies should continue to focus on workplace safety — especially worker injuries — in order to help control costs and encourage federal employees to engage in safe practices.
Manny Peralta, director of safety and health for the National Association of Letter Carriers, said there is not enough focus on safety at the Postal Service and too much focus on costs.
“I am 100-percent not satisfied that there is enough done at all levels at the Postal Service,” he said.
Changes that could make workers safer, such as breaks for letter carriers working in extreme heat or cold, are not considered because they would cost too much, Peralta said.
Instead, there are instances where letter carriers collapse from heat stroke or suffer from frostbite by doing a job that requires being outdoors for up to seven hours at a time, he said.
Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said the drop in law enforcement officers killed on the job — from 12 in 2012 to 7 in 2013 — does not mean there is any reduced risk for officers.
He said officers are still at risk and even while there were fewer fatalities, there were still many assaults and injuries sustained on the job.
Other occupations that saw fatalities in 2013 include:
- Natural resources and construction and maintenance workers, who saw seven fatalities.
- Federal firefighters, with two fatalities.
- Science positions, including six biologists and technicians.
William Dougan, the president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said that during his time as a federal firefighter he saw not just how important federal service was, but also the risks that came with it.
And despite advances in technology, training and safety equipment, sometimes it just boils down to individual decision-making or luck in the form of good weather patterns.
“Too often, we have seen the best and brightest firefighters perish because of poor decision-making and/or outside factors such as volatile weather patterns,” Dougan said.