The number of U.S. workplace deaths rose 2% in 2019 to 5,333 from 5,250 fatal workplace injuries in 2018, according to the most recent Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries released by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The fatal work injury rate was 3.5 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, the same rate reported in 2018.
It was the highest number of fatalities reported since 2007. Transportation incidents continued to account for the largest share of fatalities; transportation incidents increased 2% in 2019 to 2,122 cases. Falls, slips, and trips increased 11% in 2019 to 880 cases.
Other key findings in the BLS report included:
- Fatalities among workers age 55 and over increased 8% from 1,863 in 2018 to 2,005 in 2019–the largest number ever recorded for the age group;
- Hispanic or Latino worker fatalities were up 13% to 1,088 in 2019–a series high since 1992;
- Fatalities in the private construction industry increased 5% to 1,061;
- Driver/sales workers and truck drivers incurred 1,005 fatal occupational injuries; and
- Workplace deaths due to suicides (307) and unintentional overdoses (313) increased slightly in 2019.
Opioid Deaths During the Pandemic
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) separately reported that drug overdose deaths have accelerated during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D. said in a statement.
Synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, were the primary driver of the increases in overdose deaths, increasing 38.4 percent from the 12-month period leading up to June 2019 compared with the 12-month period leading up to May 2020.
Earlier this year, the National Safety Council (NSC) collaborated with over 60 organizations and companies to produce a National Plan to Address Opioid Misuse, which NSC said it hoped President elect Joe Biden would adopt in January.
Both the NSC and American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) responded to the CFOI report, calling for employers to take consistent, systemic action to curtail the number of workplace deaths.
“Fatalities should never be the cost of doing business,” NSC said in a statement. ASSP urged employers to adopt voluntary national consensus standards and implement safety and health management systems in response to numbers of workplace fatalities reported in 2019.
“With many safety advancements being readily available to employers nationwide, it’s troubling that we’re continuing to see higher numbers of worker fatalities,” said ASSP President Deborah Roy said in a statement.
ASSP said that employer efforts to improve workplace safety should involve safety and health management systems like the one specified in the group’s Z10.0-2019 standard.
ASSP is a professional organization of nearly 40,000 safety and health professionals. NSC is an organization of safety advocates and health and safety professionals focused on eliminating injuries, deaths, and impairment in workplaces and on the roadways.
BLS annually compiles the CFOI as well as the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) for nonfatal injuries.