Latest Data on Fatal Occupational Injuries

The fatal work injury rate increased to 3.6 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers for 2021 in the U.S., the highest annual rate since 2016.

Man and woman standing on either side of a yellow and red ambulance outdoors

According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 5,190 fatal occupational injuries recorded in the U.S. in 2021, an 8.9% increase from 2020. In 2019, the fatal work injury rate before the COVID-19 pandemic was 3.5 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. This number increased to 3.6 for 2021, which represents the highest annual rate since 2016.

“Even if your particular industry is not high on this list, the exposures that led to the workplace fatalities exist in almost every industry, and employers should certainly be able to find relatable events or exposures,” said Matt McDonough, assistant vice president of risk services at Safety National. “This report shows companies the types of events and exposures that led to workplace fatalities. If they do not have controls in place for some of these exposures, they should certainly start building those programs out now.”

Hardest Hit Industries

Four industries ranked highest for total number of fatalities:

  1. Transportation and Material Moving: This industry reached a series high in 2021. BLS states that there was a 16% increase in deaths for driver/sales workers and truck drivers from 2020 to 2021.
  2. Construction and Extraction: These types of occupations ranked second in number of fatal worker injuries despite experiencing a 2.6% decrease in fatalities from 2020.
  3. Protective Service: Firefighters, law enforcement officers, transit police and others in this field saw a 32% increase in fatalities in 2021. More than 45% of these were due to homicides (116) and suicides (21).
  4. Installation, Maintenance and Repair: This industry saw 475 fatalities in 2021, an increase of 21% from 2020.

The most hazardous working conditions are often related to labor-intensive occupations. The current labor shortage is only exacerbating on-the-job fatalities and injuries. More workers are being asked to take on more dangerous tasks, resulting in a higher risk of injury. There is also a lack of training and a shortage of experienced workers. Finally, employers are trying to manage their business with fewer resources, which can lead to a reduction in safety measures.

Surprises in the Report

Exposure to harmful substances was the third leading cause of fatalities throughout the U.S. in the workplace, just falling behind transportation incidents and falls, slips and trips. These were fatalities attributed to unintentional overdoses, which means nonmedical use of drugs and alcohol.

According to the BLS, exposure to harmful substances or environments led to 798 worker fatalities in 2021, the highest figure since the series began in 2011. This major event category experienced the largest increase in fatalities in 2021, increasing by 19% from 2020. Unintentional overdose from nonmedical use of drugs or alcohol accounted for 58% of these fatalities (464 deaths).

The transportation sector continues to be the most affected industry for workplace fatalities in the U.S. While this may not be considered a surprise, the sheer number of fatalities within this industry is shocking. The increased number of delivery drivers on the road, the increasing number of distracted drivers and insufficient safety protocols to protect workers all contribute to the large number in this industry, which continuously ranks number one in the BLS report.

See also: Unprecedented Severity of WC Claims

Tips on Managing Risks

In light of the information provided in this report, the following are some strategies that companies can implement to help reduce workplace fatalities:

  1. Implement Safety Protocols: Employers should implement clear safety protocols and procedures, including important information on how to safely perform certain tasks and what to do in emergencies.
  2. Develop Training Programs: Develop safety training programs to help workers stay aware of potential hazards and know how to safely perform their jobs.
  3. Promote Safety: Promote a culture of safety in the workplace by emphasizing the importance of following safety protocols and the consequences of not doing so.
  4. Upgrade Equipment: Regularly check and upgrade equipment and replace anything that is damaged or worn out.
  5. Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Provide PPE to workers who may be exposed to hazardous environments or situations.
  6. Conduct Safety Audits: Regularly conduct safety audits and take corrective action as needed.

Companies should also encourage workers to report any potential hazards they may notice, post signs to remind workers of safety protocols and to help them recognize potential hazards and hold regular safety meetings to ensure that workers understand all safety protocols.

Mark Walls

Profile picture for user MarkWalls

Mark Walls

Mark Walls is the vice president, client engagement, at Safety National.

He is also the founder of the Work Comp Analysis Group on LinkedIn, which is the largest discussion community dedicated to workers' compensation issues.


Read More