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South Dakota Sen. Ryan Maher

Report: ND, SD and Montana among nation's most unsafe states to work in

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North Dakota is among the worst states when it comes to workplace safety, a report released Wednesday shows.

It ranked the state at 46, with 50 being the worst. In 2010, the most current data, the state had 30 workplace fatalities, which put North Dakota at a rate of 8.4 per 100,000 workers, according to the report.

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The report, "Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect," was composed by the AFL-CIO, a federation for trade unions in the United States and Canada.

"New Hampshire, the best, was 0.9 workers per 100,000," Bill Kojola, industrial hygienist with the AFL-CIO said from his Washington, D.C. office. "So North Dakota was almost 10 times the fatality rate as New Hampshire."

The AFL-CIO had the state ranked at 7.9 per 100,000 workers in 2009, he added.

South Dakota was ranked 47 in the report, with a fatality rate of 8.6 per 100,000 workers.

District 28 Republican Sen. Ryan Maher of Isabel, S.D. found the report surprising "to a degree."

"It's definitely something to look at to improve that," he said. "I don't really think of workplace accidents, but we're in a really rural, isolated part of the state."

The number of deaths this year went up over last year, which is a real cause for concern, Kojola said.

"When you have a trend like that -- when you tend to be high -- somewhere in North Dakota you've got employers who aren't paying attention to safety and health hazards that their workforce is contending with," he said.

"There needs to be a renewed focus on making sure that the hazards in North Dakota workplaces are identified and fixed," Maher said.

Half of the 30 North Dakota fatalities in 2010 were traffic-related incidents.

District 36 Sen. George Nodland, R-Dickinson, found the information "hard to believe," but is confident North Dakota workers' safety is improving.

"People were still learning how to drive in this new traffic, including the local people," Nodland said of increased energy activity in 2010. "Once we get our highways built the way they're supposed to be built for the increase in traffic we have, that number will go way down."

North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance has beefed up staff and enforcement to keep up with more employers and employees, he added.

"We've had an increase in traffic fatalities, but then we've had an increase in miles driven," Nodland said.

The report doesn't pinpoint where fatalities occurred.

Kojola said all fatalities were men older than age 20.

"It's an outrage that so many of North Dakota's workers have not returned home to their loved ones and that our state remains such a dangerous place to work," Gary Granzotto, president/secretary treasurer of North Dakota AFL-CIO, stated in a press release.

Most work-related accidents in Maher's area are likely farm and ranch related, Maher said.

"There's accidents on farms and ranches all the time and when you work with livestock, it just can't be prevented all the time," he said. "Accidents are going to happen because you've got unpredictable animals."

Nationwide, there were 4,690 workplace deaths due to traumatic injuries and more than 3.8 million workers across all industries who experienced work-related injuries and illnesses. In 2009, 4,551 people died on the job, according to the report.

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