Nearly one in four area workers who died on the job last year was murdered, the highest proportion in the nation, the Labor Department reported yesterday.

By contrast, in the New York and northern New Jersey area, one in seven who died on the job was a homicide victim.

"This is part of a larger picture," said Temple University associate professor of criminology Philip Harris, who studies crime in the region. "It's parallel to the gun-homicide picture."

In 2006, 89 workers died on the job in the region. Of them, 22 were homicides. And of the 22, 17 died in shootings.

Among them was Zong Xiang Wang, 44, fatally shot during a robbery Aug. 11, 2006, behind his takeout at Fifth Street and Lehigh Avenue in North Philadelphia. Wang had hoped his restaurant would be the ticket to the American Dream. Instead, mourners placed dumplings, noodles and rice at his grave to nourish him on his journey to the afterlife.

Also among the statistics was Officer Gary Skerski, 46, a 16-year veteran widely described as a consummate community police officer. He was shot when he responded to a robbery in progress at a Northeast Philadelphia bar May 8, 2006. His killer was sentenced Oct. 30 to life in prison.

In 2005, one in five killed on the job in the region, or 15 out of 76, died as a result of homicides.

"We hope that employers and employees and public-safety inspectors use this information, so they can design programs and safety standards and save lives in the future," said Labor Department economist Gerald Perrins in the Philadelphia office.

Perrins acknowledged that the numbers were small. "We don't think about statistical significance" for this study, he said. "Every death is important."

Across the nation, the most common way to die on the job was to get in a highway accident. But in metropolitan areas, that type of fatality was eclipsed by the likelihood of falling on a construction site. Nationally, homicides counted for 9 percent of all workplace deaths.

In the Philadelphia region, one in eight died on the highway, and one in five died from falls.

Of the 22 who were slain, 12 were involved in robberies. Police found Kulbir Singh, 70, on the pavement near the pumps at a Burlington City gasoline station. He was stabbed Sept. 12, 2006, during a robbery.

Thirteen who died were killed by current or former coworkers. Harcum College graduate Sarah Boone was working at Cricket Catering in Ardmore on Jan. 26, 2006, when she was stabbed and bludgeoned by a former coworker.

Two-thirds of people killed at work were whites - most of them died in transportation incidents. Assault and violent acts killed the majority of African Americans, Asians and Latinos.

Of the 89 who died on the job in the Philadelphia region last year, 22 died in construction. Among them was laborer Jeffrey Martin, 23, of Egg Harbor Township, who fell to his death on the construction site of the Symphony House on South Broad Street.

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.