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Job-related fatalities dropped in 2008; recession a likely factor (8/24)

August 24, 2009
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A total of 5,071 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2008, down from a total of 5,657 fatal work injuries reported for 2007. While the 2008 results are preliminary, this figure represents the smallest annual preliminary total since the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program was first conducted in 1992, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Final results for 2008 will be released in April 2010.

Based on these preliminary counts, the rate of fatal injury for U.S. workers in 2008 was 3.6 fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, down from the final rate of 4.0 in 2007.

Economic factors likely played a role in the fatality decrease, according to BLS. Average hours worked at the national level fell by one percent in 2008, and some industries that have historically accounted for a significant share of worker fatalities, such as construction, experienced larger declines in employment or hours worked.

Key findings of the 2008 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries:


  • Fatal work injuries in the private construction sector in 2008 declined by 20 percent from the updated 2007 total, twice the all-worker decline of 10 percent.


  • Fatal workplace falls, which had risen to a series high in 2007, also declined by 20 percent in 2008.


  • Workplace suicides were up 28 percent to a series high of 251 cases in 2008, but workplace homicides declined 18 percent in 2008.


  • The number and rate of fatal work injuries among 16 to 17 year-old workers were higher in 2008.


  • Fatal occupational injuries involving Hispanic or Latino workers in 2008 were 17 percent lower than in 2007.


  • Fatalities among non-Hispanic Black or African American workers were down 16 percent.


  • The number of fatal workplace injuries in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations rose 6 percent in 2008 after declining in 2007.


  • Transportation incidents, which accounted for approximately two-fifths of all the workplace fatalities in 2008, fell 13 percent from the previous series low of 2,351 cases reported in 2007.


In June of 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics introduced improved fatality rates for the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). The new rates, based on hours worked as opposed to employment, are considered to be more accurate in measuring the risk of dying from an injury on the job. Further information on the rates is available at: www.bls.gov/iif/oshnotice10.htm Hours-based rates for years 2006 through 2008 and employment-based rates for years 1992 through 2007 can be found at: www.bls.gov/iif/oshcfoi1.htm

In addition to the impact of declining employment, another factor that should be considered when reviewing these preliminary results is how the economy may have impacted the government agencies that provide source documents used in the compilation of CFOI data. Budget constraints at some of these governmental agencies may have delayed the receipt and processing of the documents that are used by BLS’s state partners to classify and code CFOI cases.

The average net increase in CFOI cases as a result of updates over the past two years has been 153 cases, but the updated 2008 counts scheduled for release in April 2010 have the potential to be larger because of these delays.

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