Workplace homicides and suicides in Texas each increased by almost a quarter last year as the state saw a 3.6 percent increase in worker deaths from the previous year, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report released Thursday.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that Texas had 480 workplace deaths in 2009, including 163 from transportation incidents and 93 from assaults or violent acts, such as robbery. The total number of deaths was 17 more than in 2008.
Transportation deaths are consistently the leading category, said John Greeley, spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance. The state agency's workers compensation division compiles data for the federal report, which isn't yet final.
Greeley said workplace homicides increased by about 24 percent last year from 2008, when 55 homicide victims were reported. He said the exact number of workplace homicides in 2009 wasn't immediately available, but robbery was the motive in about a third of them. About 40 percent happened in retail establishments, and 82 percent of the deaths involved guns, he said.
Suicides were up 21 percent from 2008, he said. An exact number wasn't available Thursday, he said.
"We don't have explanations," he said of the suicide and homicide counts. "It would just be anecdotal."
Thursday's report is based on preliminary numbers that could change once the final report is released next year. It showed Texas among 13 states that saw increases in workplace deaths in 2009 when compared to 2008.
Nationally, the number of workers who died on the job fell by 17 percent last year to the lowest level in nearly two decades. High unemployment and layoffs in more dangerous industries such as construction played a major role in the decrease, according to the report.
In Texas, 463 workplace deaths were reported in 2008, a decrease from the 528 workers who died in 2007. In 2006 489 deaths were reported, and there were 495 a year earlier.
Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch, a consumer advocacy group, said workers have no state agency to ensure safety.
"We don't have a formal process to police and oversee the safety of workers, and we don't have a legal system in place that allows workers who are injured to hold their employers accountable," he said.