TUMWATER — For the second straight year, COVID-19 was the leading cause of work-related fatalities in Washington state, accounting for one quarter of the 106 workers who died, according to the state Department of Labor & Industries.
L&I claim records show 26 people died in 2021 after contracting COVID-19 while working in hospitals, prisons, manufacturing jobs, or other workplaces, said a press release issued by the agency.
Another 15 workers died following long battles with other occupational illnesses.
They included four people from the North Olympic Peninsula.
In Jefferson County, they were Kenneth A. Hagerman, who worked in construction and died after years of exposure to asbestos, L&I said, and James F. Headley, a logger who died of effects of paraplegia caused by an industrial injury.
In Clallam County, they were Margarito Davila-Perete, a roofing contractor who fell through a roof, and Joseph C. Oiness, who was struck by a bale of compressed cardboard falling from the back of a semi-trailer.
L&I honored all 106 fallen workers during its annual Worker Memorial Day ceremony on Wednesday.
“Even as we believe that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, we find ourselves looking back on another year where COVID was the leading cause of job-related deaths,” said Joel Sacks, L&I director.
“We will not forget those who lost their lives to COVID or other causes. We all need to do everything in our power to ensure every worker goes home safe at the end of the day.”
In 2021, the number of COVID-19 deaths increased, while the overall number of workplace fatalities declined by 13 from the previous year, when there were 119 workplace deaths.
Construction was the most dangerous industry, claiming 22 lives. Transportation/warehousing and public safety workers accounted for 16 and 14 deaths, respectively.
The number of fatalities in agriculture fell by nearly half, with 11 worker deaths compared to 21 in 2020.
Unfortunately, the number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes tripled, from seven to 21. Worker deaths from falls remained about the same at 10.
The people honored at the Worker Memorial Day ceremony ranged in age from 19 to 84 years old at the time of their deaths. They were healthcare workers, corrections officers, mechanics, orchard workers, police officers, among others.
The virtual ceremony included remarks from Gov. Jay Inslee, representatives from the Association of Washington Business, the Washington State Labor Council, the Washington Self-Insurers Association, and Casey Yeager, whose father Terry died after contracting COVID on his job training workers at a plywood manufacturer.
Each of the names of the fallen workers was read aloud followed by the traditional ringing of a bell in their honor.
This is the 29th time L&I has held the annual Worker Memorial Day ceremony. It’s one of many events in April honoring fallen workers across the nation.