Injuries and Illness

A Death in the Workplace: What’s Killing Workers?

Do you know what the leading causes of death are in American workplaces? Each year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tallies the statistics, releasing data from 1 to 2 years in arrears. Despite the delay in reporting, there is a certain consistency from one year to the next: Many of the same hazards remain a threat to workers. Do you know what they are?

The BLS breaks down its data by type of deadly incident, as well as by employer and worker characteristics. This week we will look at how each of those relates to worker fatalities, beginning today with the kinds of work-related incidents that result in the largest numbers of fatalities.

The Top Five Killers

According to the BLS, the top three killers in 2013 were:

Transportation incidents. This category includes injuries that occur on roadways, like car crashes; incidents that occur off-road, like tractor overturns; and incidents that result from travel by airplane and train. Transportation incidents accounted for about 40% of all work-related fatalities in 2013. Sixty percent of these deaths (991 fatalities) were roadway incidents—car and truck crashes involving workers who are “on the clock.” Sixteen percent (284 fatalities) involved pedestrians struck by vehicles; 48 of those deaths occurred in highway work zones. Another 13% were off-road transportation incidents.

The takeaway for employers: If you have any kind of fleet vehicles, or workers who are on the road and on the clock, you need a thorough and effective fleet safety program. Workers in highway work zones and off-road transportation situations represent a special case, with issues all their own; for them, also, you will need a specific program to ensure workplace safety.


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Violence. This category includes not only homicides but also suicides (yes, there is such a thing as on-the-job suicide) and deadly assaults by animals. All told, 753 workers died of violence in 2013; more than half (397) were homicide victims. Fully 35% (270 deaths) were suicides. Homicide also disproportionately affects women in the workplace—it is the second-leading killer of women at work. Of the 302 women who died at work in 2013, 22% were homicide victims; only 8% of male fatalities were homicides.

The takeaway for employers: Most employers are aware of their risk of homicidal violence; however, fewer are aware of the annual toll that suicide takes. How is your employee assistance program? Is it up to the challenge of preventing worker suicides?

To protect women in the workplace, you may need a program to address domestic violence as well as other homicide risk factors (like handling money or prescription drugs).


Safety professionals who understand which violations were most frequently cited in 2014 will be better positioned to identify and resolve safety issues. Don’t miss this opportunity to discover how to fortify your safety programs. Register today!


Falls. There are two main categories of fatal falls: falls on the same level and falls to a lower level. Falls on the same level account for far more injuries, but fewer fatalities—only 18% of fatal falls were falls on the same level. Of fatal falls to a lower level, 25% were falls of 10 feet (ft) or less; about 20% were falls of greater than 30 ft, and the remainder were falls from 10 to 30 ft.

The takeaway for employers: Anytime you have workers who are exposed to a fall greater than 10 ft, you are probably aware of it and taking appropriate precautions—but don’t overlook falls on the same level, or “small” falls of less than 10 ft—falls of these types accounted for a substantial minority of fatal falls in 2013.

Rounding out the top five categories of fatal hazards were “contact with objects and equipment”—a broad category that includes struck-by hazards, falling object hazards, and caught-in hazards—and fires and explosions, a category that was deadlier than usual in 2013 because of some multifatality incidents, including the Yarnell Hill wildfires in Arizona that killed 19 firefighters.

Tune in tomorrow to find out which categories of workers are at the highest risk of fatal injury.