The latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offered a grim picture of the current state of workplace safety.
There were 5,190 fatal work injuries recorded in the United States in 2021, an 8.9 percent increase from 4,764 in 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in December. The fatal work injury rate was 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, up from 3.4 in 2020 and up from the 2019 pre-pandemic rate of 3.5. These statistics are from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI).
Key findings from the 2021 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries
- The 3.6 fatal occupational injury rate in 2021 represents the highest annual rate since 2016.
- A worker died every 101 minutes from a work-related injury in 2021.
- The share of Black or African American workers fatally injured on the job reached an all-time high in 2021, increasing from 11.4 percent of total fatalities in 2020 to 12.6 percent of total fatalities in 2021. Deaths for this group climbed to 653 in 2021 from 541 in 2020, a 20.7-percent increase. The fatality rate for this group increased from 3.5 in 2020 to 4.0 per 100,000 FTE workers in 2021.
- Suicides continued to trend down, decreasing to 236 in 2021 from 259 in 2020, an 8.9-percent decrease.
- Workers in transportation and material moving occupations experienced a series high of 1,523 fatal work injuries in 2021 and represent the occupational group with the highest number of fatalities. This is an increase of 18.8 percent from 2020.
- Transportation incidents remained the most frequent type of fatal event in 2021 with 1,982 fatal injuries, an increase of 11.5 percent from 2020. This major category accounted for 38.2 percent of all work- related fatalities for 2021.
- Black or African American workers, as well as Hispanic or Latino workers had fatality rates (4.0 and 4.5 per 100,000 FTE workers, respectively) in 2021 that were higher than the all worker rate of 3.6. Transportation incidents were the highest cause of fatalities within both of these groups (267 for Black or African American workers and 383 for Hispanic or Latino workers).
- The second highest cause of fatalities to Black or African American workers were injuries due to violence and other injuries by persons or animals (155), whereas for Hispanic or Latino workers it was falls, slips, or trips (272). Almost a quarter of Black or African American workplace fatalities (23.7 percent) are a result of violence and other injuries by persons or animals as opposed to 14.7 percent for all workers.
- Women made up 8.6 percent of all workplace fatalities but represented 14.5 percent of intentional injuries by a person in 2021.
- In 2021, workers between the ages of 45 and 54 suffered 1,087 workplace fatalities, a 13.9-percent increase from 2020. This age group accounted for just over one-fifth of the total of fatalities for the year (20.9 percent).
Fatal event or exposure
- Despite experiencing an increase from 2020 to 2021, transportation incidents are still down 6.6 percent from 2019 when there were 2,122 fatalities.
- Fatalities due to violence and other injuries by persons or animals increased to 761 fatalities in 2021 from 705 fatalities in 2020 (7.9 percent). The largest subcategory, intentional injuries by person, increased 10.3 percent to 718 in 2021.
- 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 18.8 percent from 2020. Unintentional overdose from nonmedical use of drugs or alcohol accounted for 58.1 percent of these fatalities (464 deaths), up from 57.7 percent of this category’s total in 2020.
- Work related fatalities due to falls, slips, and trips increased 5.6 percent in 2021, from 805 fatalities in 2020 to 850 in 2021. Falls, slips, and trips in construction and extraction occupations accounted for 370 of these fatalities in 2021, and an increase of 7.2 percent from 2020 when there were 345 fatalities. Despite the increase this is still down 9.3 percent from 2019 when construction and extraction occupations experienced 408 fatalities due to this event.
- There was a 16.3 percent increase in deaths for driver/sales workers and truck drivers which went up to 1,032 deaths in 2021 from 887 deaths in 2020. This was the primary factor behind the increase in fatalities to workers in transportation and material moving occupations which reached a series high in 2021.
- Construction and extraction occupations had the second most occupational deaths (951) in 2021, despite experiencing a 2.6-percent decrease in fatalities from 2020. The fatality rate for this occupation also decreased from 13.5 deaths per 100,000 FTE workers in 2020 to 12.3 in 2021.
- Protective service occupations (such as firefighters, law enforcement workers, police and sheriff’s patrol officers, and transit and railroad police) had a 31.9-percent increase in fatalities in 2021, increasing to 302 from 229 in 2020. Almost half (45.4 percent) of these fatalities are due to homicides (116) and suicides (21). About one-third (33.4 percent) are due to transportation incidents, representing the highest count since 2016.
- Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations had 475 fatalities in 2021, an increase of 20.9 percent. Almost one-third of these deaths (152) were to vehicle and mobile equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers.
- The fatal injury rate for fishing and hunting workers decreased from 132.1 per 100,000 FTEs in 2020 to 75.2 in 2021.
BLS Handbook of Methods on the BLS website at www.bls.gov/opub/hom/cfoi/home.htm
CFOI definitions at www.bls.gov/iif/definitions/occupational-safety-and-health-definitions.htm
BLS website: www.bls.gov/iif
For more information on sampling error, see www.bls.gov/iif/additional-resources/reliability-of-estimates.htm
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