By ANNE SAKER

The Oregonian via Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Gary Rischitelli declines to take the credit, but the drop of workplace deaths in Oregon in this decade could easily be traced in part to his small program at Oregon Health & Science University.

Rischitelli, a physician who specializes in occupational medicine, oversees the Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation, a federally funded study of how people die on the job. The survey casts a wide net, beyond data collected by safety agencies, to capture the most complete picture of what kills workers.

From that data, Rischitelli said, employers and the government can develop ways to prevent deaths.

"It was a little bit unintentional, but with our name, FACE, we actually put a face on workplace fatalities," he said. "When we identify these individuals, our reports have not just a factual component but also a personal factor, that this was a fellow human being, someone who had a family."

The Oregon FACE began with a 2003 grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; only eight other states received NIOSH money for such programs. The Oregon program received a fresh five-year grant in March.

Last week, FACE released its most recent report on Oregon workplace deaths, for calendar year 2007. The lag in time occurs because FACE gathers information from what may seem to be unconventional sources. A tiny obituary in a rural newspaper may be the only record of a farm worker's death, or a death certificate will note that someone who died in a motor vehicle accident was on the job at the time.

"We don't close our database or say we're done counting for almost seven or eight months after the calendar year ends," Rischitelli said. "We've found that if we close the year too soon, we have to go back and amend our numbers."

For 2007, for example, Oregon OSHA's count, strictly from workers compensation claims, came in at 35 deaths. FACE, however, counted nearly twice as many, 68, by taking the OSHA count and adding data from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, local police, the U.S. Coast Guard, the military and insurance companies.

The FACE number puts Oregon slightly below the national average of workplace fatalities. The FACE report also found:

-- The number of fatal falls doubled to 12 from six in 2006, and the main risk was ladders. One such accident, in Multnomah County, occurred when a "very obese" painter, 54, descended a ladder, missed a step and fell backwards 10 feet to the ground, and the ladder came down on top of him.

-- Violent incidents tripled to nine from three in 2006, roughly split between homicides and suicides. A Wallowa County dispute ended with two ranchers fatally shooting each other. A 52-year-old machinist mourning a failed romance took a shotgun from his shop, went to the far side of a nearby pasture and turned the weapon on himself.

-- All eight workers over 65 who died on the job in 2007 did so while operating working around motor vehicles. In Marion County, for example, a 72-year-old man working as a road flagger died when a truck ran over him at a logging site.

-- Multnomah County had the highest number of workplace fatalities, eight; Clackamas and Lane had seven each, Washington five. No workplace deaths were recorded in Baker, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Jackson, Jefferson, Lincoln, Morrow, Union and Wheeler counties. The remainder each had one, two or three deaths.

Workplace deaths in Oregon and nationwide have been declining for two decades. Like Oregon OSHA, the FACE program produces safety materials for employers and workers, and Rischitelli said lots of reasons account for the drop in deaths on the job.

"We hope we have a direct impact on that, but we don't want to take credit for it," he said. "There are some many factors -- the economy, the numbers of workers in the workforce, interventions by employers, interventions by government agencies."

But Rischitelli said FACE's most important contribution is simply in collecting and telling the stories of the deaths.

"We find that has a big impact in other workplaces," he said. "It's one thing to say a particular act is dangerous, but another to say that on this particular date in Oregon, a 38-year-old man went to work one morning and this is what happened and he didn't go home that day."

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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