Objective: Although a goal of disaster preparedness is to protect vulnerable populations from hazards, little research has explored the types of risks that workers face in their encounters with natural disasters. This study examines how workers are fatally injured in severe natural events.
Methods: A classification structure was created that identified the physical component of the disaster that led to the death and the pursuit of the worker as it relates to the disaster. Data on natural disasters from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries for the years 1992 through 2006 were analyzed.
Results: A total of 307 natural disaster deaths to workers were identified in 1992–2006. Most fatal occupational injuries were related to wildfires (80 fatalities), hurricanes (72 fatalities), and floods (62 fatalities). Compared with fatal occupational injuries in general, natural disaster fatalities involved more workers who were white and more workers who were working for the government. Most wildfire fatalities stemmed directly from exposure to fire and gases and occurred to those engaged in firefighting, whereas hurricane fatalities tended to occur more independently of disaster-produced hazards and to workers engaged in cleanup and reconstruction. Those deaths related to the 2005 hurricanes occurred a median of 36.5 days after landfall of the associated storm. Nearly half of the flood deaths occurred to passengers in motor vehicles. Other disasters included tornadoes (33 fatalities), landslides (17), avalanches (16), ice storms (14), and blizzards (9).
Conclusions: Despite an increasing social emphasis on disaster preparation and response, there has been little increase in expert knowledge about how people actually perish in these large-scale events. Using a 2-way classification structure, this study identifies areas of emphasis in preventing occupational deaths from various natural disasters. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2009;3:201–209)