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2007 local workplace homicides highest in U.S.

The Philadelphia region in 2007 had the highest rate of workplace homicides of any U.S. metropolitan area, the Labor Department reported today.

The Philadelphia region in 2007 had the highest rate of workplace homicides of any U.S. metropolitan area, the Labor Department reported today.

Of the 93 Philadelphia-area workers who died on the job last year, 27 - or 29 percent - were killed by assaults and violent acts.

The national average was 11 percent.

"That's hugely higher than the national average," said Barbara Rahke, who heads the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health, a labor and government-funded organization dedicated to improving worker safety.

Since so much manufacturing has left the area, she said, employment is growing at smaller companies - such as in retailing - where workers can be vulnerable to violence. "It is important to see how jobs created in these small businesses can be made safe," Rahke said.

Boston had the lowest percentage of workplace fatalities, at 9 percent, and Detroit the second-highest, at 26 percent. New York and Washington each had 17 percent.

Besides homicides, contact with objects and equipment, transportation accidents, fires, and exposure to harmful substances caused the other on-the-job deaths, the report said.

Among those killed at work last year was Philadelphia Police Officer Chuck Cassidy, 54, who was shot Oct. 31 during a morning robbery at a Dunkin' Donuts on Broad Street in West Oak Lane.

Cassidy's death was particularly chilling because the killer was caught on a security videocamera shooting the officer at point-blank range. The man accused of killing him, John Lewis, was arrested a week after the shooting at a homeless shelter in Miami. He is awaiting trial.

Also killed at work in 2007 were Robert Norris, 41, Mark Norris, 46, and James Reif, 42. They died at Mark Norris' office in the Navy Yard when a fellow investor in a New York real estate deal opened fire on them during a meeting Feb. 12. The investor, Vincent Julius Dortch, of Newark, Del., also died, in an ensuing gun battle with police.

Others shot to death while working in 2007 included two security guards killed while servicing an ATM machine, the owner of a Southwest Philadelphia furniture store, an oil-furnace repairman in North Philadelphia, and a grocery-store employee hit by a random bullet during a gunfight.

Nationally, most of those who died on the job were killed in highway crashes. Of the 5,488 killed in 2007, 1,311, or 24 percent, died on the highway. Philadelphia was among the lower-ranked regions with 13 percent, or 12 people, being killed in highway crashes. Detroit ranked the highest, and Boston was the lowest.

The second most common cause of death was falls to a lower level. Nationally, 13 percent of workers, or 733, died in such falls. Philadelphia had 15 percent of its deaths from falls to a lower level. Highest ranked was Boston, with 22 percent.

Among those who died from falling in Philadelphia was Drew Mecutchen, 44, of Levittown, an ironworker doing construction at Temple University's new medical building in North Philadelphia. On Dec. 28, he fell five stories to his death.

Rahke expects the number of deaths from falls to decline in 2008 as the construction sector contracts with the economy. Most construction fatalities occur among contractors who employ 20 or fewer workers, she said. Her organization has been sending trainers out to small jobs to show proper safety procedures.

"You have a lot of immigrant workers who are even further vulnerable because of language barriers," she said.

Nearly two thirds of the workplace deaths in the region, which includes Philadelphia, its suburbs, South Jersey, Wilmington and part of northern Maryland, happened to whites.

Most of the whites who were killed died in transportation accidents, but homicides came in a close second. The largest number of African Americans who were killed lost their lives in homicides. Hispanic deaths were split between falls and homicide.

All but seven who died were men, and most were in their prime working years, ages 25 to 54, with the biggest group ages 45 to 54.

Most of those who died were employees. Among those who were self-employed, assaults and violent acts caused the largest number of deaths.