Injuries and Illness, Personnel Safety

BLS: 2020 Saw Fewer Fatal Workplace Injuries

There were 4,764 fatal workplace injuries reported in the United States in 2020—a 10.7% decrease from 5,333 in 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced December 16 with the release of its Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). The fatal workplace injury rate was 3.4 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers—down from 3.5 per 100,000 workers in 2019.

The data is complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the BLS notes. The CFOI gathers data on fatal workplace injuries and does not include instances of fatal occupational illnesses.

Key findings of the 2020 CFOI include:

  • The 4,764 fatal occupational injuries in 2020 is the lowest annual number since 2013.
  • Transportation incidents remained the most frequent type of fatal event, totaling 1,778 fatal injuries, which accounted for 37.3% of all work-related fatalities.
  • The share of Hispanic or Latino workers fatally injured on the job continued to grow in 2020, increasing to 22.5% (1,072 fatalities) from 20.4% (1,066 fatalities) in 2019.
  • Suicides decreased 15.6% from 307 in 2019 to 259 in 2020—the lowest count for occupational suicides since 2015.

However, exposure to harmful substances or environments led to 672 worker fatalities in 2020—the highest figure since the BLS began tracking such data in 2011. Within that category, unintentional overdoses from nonmedical use of drugs accounted for 57.7% of fatalities in the category, or 388 deaths—up from 48.8% in 2019.

There were 1,282 deaths in transportation and material-moving occupations and 976 workplace deaths in construction and extraction occupations, and the two occupational fields accounted for nearly half, or 47.4%, of all fatal occupational injuries.

Fatal workplace injuries or injury rates declined among some occupations. Sales occupations and office and administrative support occupations had a 19.0% decrease in fatal occupational injuries between 2019 (332 deaths) and 2020 (269 deaths). The fatal injury rate for aircraft pilots and flight engineers decreased from 61.8 per 100,000 employees in 2019 to 34.3 in 2020.

However, the number or rate of fatal injuries increased in other occupations. Fatal occupational injuries increased 18.6% among workers in law enforcement between 2019 and 2020—from 97 to 115. Fatalities in healthcare support occupations increased 15.8% to 44 fatalities—up from 38 in 2019.

Fishing and hunting workers had a fatal injury rate of 132.1 fatal work injuries per 100,000 workers in 2020. Transportation incidents accounted for 71.4% of fishing and hunting workers’ deaths.

Women made up 8.1% of all fatalities but accounted for 16.3% of workplace homicides in 2020. Workers between the ages of 45 and 54 suffered 954 workplace fatalities in 2020—the lowest count for the age group since 1992. The fatality rate for Hispanic or Latino workers was 4.5 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2020—up from 4.2 in 2019. Black or African-American workers had a 14.7% decrease in occupational fatalities in 2020, falling from 634 in 2019 to 541 in 2020.

Fatalities due to violence and other injuries by animals or persons decreased from 841 fatalities in 2019 to 705 fatalities in 2020—down 16.2%. The largest subcategory, intentional injuries by person, decreased 14.5% to 651 in 2020.

The BLS issues two annual reports on workplace injuries and illnesses: the CFOI and the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) for nonfatal injuries and illnesses. On November 3, the BLS reported that nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses decreased 5.7% in 2020.