AUGUSTA (AP) – Twenty-three people died of occupational injuries in Maine in 2003, as the state’s total dropped sharply following a one-year spike, the state Labor Department said.

Of the 23 killed, seven worked in transportation jobs; five in farming, forestry or fishing; five in precision production, craft and repair, and six in other occupations. Eight were self-employed, and all but two were male.

The 23 deaths was a significant drop from 30 occupational deaths a year earlier. But the 2002 total was inflated by a single accident in which a van carrying 15 forest workers crashed into the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in northern Maine, killing all but one of the men aboard.

Last year’s 23 deaths matches the total from 2001, and is lower than any of the three previous years, the report said.

The department’s Bureau of Labor Standards issued its report as an effort aimed at preventing future on-the-job accidents continued. By analyzing statistical data, officials hope to spot patterns that pinpoint the causes of accidents, bureau director Bill Peabody said Monday.

One of the state’s prevention projects, the Maine Occupational Research Agenda, is modeled after a program of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. In addition, a pilot research program has completed four case studies of on-the-job fatalities in Maine.

The largest portion of deaths in 2003 was in transportation occupations, with three each involving motor vehicle operators and material-moving equipment operators.

With a large proportion of accidents in the transportation area, a cooperative program involving the state Labor and Transportation departments as well as private contractors has been established to promote defensive driving, work-zone safety and other practices that can prevent injuries, said Peabody.

Labor Department figures show that the number of work-related deaths in Maine had been declining since 1999, when 32 were recorded. The number dropped to 26 in 2000, 23 in 2001 and would have dropped to 16 in 2002 if the northern Maine forest accident, the worst fatal traffic wreck in Maine history, had not occurred.

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