Two of the nation’s largest professional safety organizations—the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) and the National Safety Council (NSC)—reacted to a December 16 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that fatal workplace injuries increased in 2021. There were 5,190 fatal work injuries in the United States in 2021—an 8.9% increase from 4,764 in 2020—and the fatal injury rate of 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers was the highest annual rate since 2016.
“It’s unacceptable that our nation’s fatal worker injury rate is at a five-year high–a fact made worse by minority populations being disproportionately impacted,” ASSP President Christine Sullivan said in a statement. “Most occupational incidents are preventable given today’s technologies and proven safety and health strategies. Employers must be proactive in adopting workplace safety standards to protect workers across all industries.”
The share of black or African-American workers fatally injured on the job reached an all-time high in 2021, increasing from 11.4% of total fatalities in 2020 to 12.6% of total fatalities in 2021, according to the BLS’s Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI).
“The data included in this report indicate workplaces have become less safe, and it is heartbreaking,” NSC President and CEO Lorraine Martin said in a statement. “Everyone deserves the chance to live their fullest life.”
“This report shows our mission to save lives, from the workplace to anyplace, is critical, and NSC is committed to doing its part to curb this deadly trend and put an end to preventable workplace fatalities.”
The ASSP suggested there may be a connection between diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the occupational safety and health profession and workplace health and safety outcomes. The group is increasing its focus on DEI in the profession and has planned a free daylong DEI Summit on January 26. Registration for the online event opened December 1.
“Diversity helps strengthen an organization in many ways, including the safety and health of its workforce,” Sullivan said. “We are going to hear from experts and collect different perspectives from attendees on how we can elevate DEI in our profession.”
On December 16, Doug Parker, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, also pointed out that black and Latino workers had fatality rates disproportionately higher than their coworkers in 2021. Parker called on his own agency, employers, and other stakeholders to redouble their efforts to make workplaces safer.
The NSC focused on the potential for technology to address workplace injuries and fatalities. The group stated that it “continues to double down on efforts like the Work to Zero initiative to help companies of all sizes keep their workers safe by understanding the technology to help them do so such as drones, fatigue monitoring and wearables, proximity sensors and virtual or augmented reality.”
The Work to Zero initiative has examined the technologies it considers the most promising. The group recently issued a white paper examining ways environment, health, and safety (EHS) software and mobile applications can enhance employers’ safety operations to prevent serious injuries and fatalities on the job.