In the United States, an estimated 59 million persons spend a median of 52 hours each year volunteering, most often in religious, educational, youth, or community service organizations. Volunteers commonly perform activities such as coaching, campaigning, fundraising, delivering goods, and serving on boards or neighborhood associations.

Few studies have analyzed fatal injuries to volunteers. To characterize fatal injuries among volunteers in the U.S., NIOSH recently analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries for 1993-2002.

Results indicate a total of 501 persons died from injuries sustained while volunteering during this period — most often firefighters and other volunteers who were operating motor vehicles at the time of death.

NIOSH urges organizations that rely on volunteers to provide adequate training (such as defensive driving and recognition of evacuation signals).

Three occupations accounted for about half of the 501 fatal injuries to volunteers: firefighters, 185 deaths (37%); non-construction laborers, 35 (7%); and pilots/navigators, 24 (5%).

Median age of victims at the time of death was 41 years; 436 (87%) of the decedents were male.