Fun with statistics

Yesterday, I got a little involved in the comment-thread of this article by Megan McArdle.

At one point, another commenter posted something about the number of workplace deaths in the United States. Something like "4628 workers were killed on the job in 2012." *

This number might be valid, or might not.

However, I immediately noticed something odd. I remember that a much-higher number of people die in vehicle-related accidents on a yearly basis.

So, basically, I asked this question: since ~35000 Americans die in automobile collisions per year, is it more dangerous to drive to a job, or to be on the job? **

* This statement is a comment about a number, not an argument. But it was offered as if it was an argument.
I think I'm seeing these unspoken assertions:
1. A large number of people died on-the-job in the United States
2. Workers need some form of protection from this
3. Unions are both necessary and sufficient for this protection

This chain of reasoning has several holes.

About point 1: The data provided is only for the year 2012. No data was provided about how this number related to Unions, or to State/Federal regulations about workplace safety. No data was provided about how this number has changed as the level of Unionization has changed over the past three or four decades. No data was provided about how this number has changed relative to man-hours-of-employment over the past few decades.

Point 2 is hard to quibble with, but proposals coming from Point 2 depend heavily on the data that went into Point 1.

About Point 3: this also depends on data. There are many ways to reduce workplace fatalities in the U.S., and the Unions and U.S. Dept. of Labor have been trying to do that for many decades. Perhaps some data about these efforts, and how these efforts interact with business efficiency, corporate practice, and the change of Union membership in the United States, should be brought into the discussion.

** My source on this is the Fatal Injury Statistics website, which is provided by the U.S. Dept. of Health Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The numbers are between 35000 and 36000 per year for most years since 2009.
Oddly, the number dropped from ~45000 per year in 2007 to ~35000 per year in 2008.
The per-capita rate had shrunk in most years from the 1980s to 2007, but the static value had remained near ~45000/year during most of those year. But there was a big drop in 2008, and it has remained since then.

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