Just How Dangerous Is Your Job, Anyway? Labor Statistics Dispel Post-Office Myth

By 1995, Los Angeles Times | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 23, 1995 | Go to article overview

Just How Dangerous Is Your Job, Anyway? Labor Statistics Dispel Post-Office Myth


1995, Los Angeles Times, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


There's a pivotal scene in the savage comedy "Ad Wars" at the Tiffany Theater. A stressed-out advertising executive whips a pistol out of his briefcase and starts waving it about in a crowded conference room.

"Put that thing away!" gasps a colleague. "We're not postal workers!"

The play's audience understands the reference: There is a widespread belief these days that the U.S. Postal Service is almost as dangerous as a war zone. That conception was reinforced earlier this month when a postal worker shot and killed a supervisor in an Industry, Calif., mail-processing facility.

"Murder Ranks 2nd As Cause Of Postal Workers' On-Job Deaths," said a headline on an Associated Press story that listed five other post office incidents in recent history. The recap included details of the 1986 slaughter of 14 co-workers by an employee in the Edmond, Okla., post office.

Just how dangerous is it to be a postal worker when compared to other jobs? At the U.S. Department of Labor, Guy Toscano sifted through some statistics this week and reported this: Postal work is one of the safest occupations in the job pool. Postal workers are not even a blip on the Department of Labor's scale of 1993 occupational fatalities, no matter how the statistics are compiled - by job-related accident or homicide.

"Being a postal worker is not a dangerous occupation, even though we have that impression," Toscano said. He contends that's because most of the shootings have been highly publicized.

The incident in Oklahoma was a major national story because of its 14 deaths, he said. Many of the other post office shootings also claimed multiple victims. "That means they get a lot of hype."

Despite the impression given by postal incidents and Wednesday's fatal shooting of four employees of the City of Los Angeles' General Services Department - apparently by a disgruntled co-worker - offices are not on the list of the most lethal job settings.

There are dozens of more dangerous occupations, said Toscano, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "We just started compiling census data on fatal occupations two years ago," he said. "We have 30 data elements about each incident, so it is very specific."

Using the U.S. Census data, the bureau has various ways to rank fatal workplaces, he said. "You can look at them by numbers or by risk."

"Numbers" are the total number of people killed by accident in an occupation. In 1993 (the latest year available), truckers led the list with 699 killed. But, he added, there are probably a million truckers, so that isn't a high fatality rate.

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