COVID-19, Injuries and Illness, Reporting

BLS: Fatal Injury Rate Up from Pre-Pandemic Level

The rate of fatal workplace injuries increased in 2021 from the rate in 2020 and the pre-pandemic rate in 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported December 16.

There were 5,190 fatal work injuries in the United States in 2021, according to the bureau’s Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI)—an 8.9% increase from 4,764 in 2020. The fatal work injury rate in 2021 was 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers—up from 3.4 per 100,000 FTE workers in 2020 and up from the 2019 pre-pandemic rate of 3.5. The 3.6 fatal occupational injury rate in 2021 also was the highest annual rate since 2016.

The CFOI only includes fatal injuries and does not report on any illness-related fatalities, including work-related COVID-19 deaths.

Other key findings from the 2021 CFOI include:

  • A worker died every 101 minutes from a work-related injury in 2021.
  • 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. Deaths for black workers climbed to 653 in 2021 from 541 in 2020—a 20.7% increase. The fatality rate for black workers increased from 3.5 in 2020 to 4.0 per 100,000 FTE workers in 2021.
  • Suicides continued to trend down, decreasing to 236 in 2021 from 259 in 2020—an 8.9% decrease.
  • Workers in transportation and material-moving occupations experienced an all-time high of 1,523 fatal work injuries in 2021 and represented the occupational group with the highest number of fatalities—an increase of 18.8% from 2020.
  • Transportation incidents remained the most frequent type of fatal event in 2021, with 1,982 fatal injuries—an increase of 11.5% from 2020. Transportation incidents accounted for 38.2% of all work-related fatalities in 2021.

The increase in fatalities among workers in transportation and material-moving occupations was driven by a 16.3% increase in deaths for driver/sales workers and truck drivers, which went up to 1,032 deaths in 2021 from 887 deaths in 2020. Construction and extraction occupations had the second most occupational deaths (951) in 2021 despite experiencing a 2.6% decrease in fatalities from 2020.

Protective service occupations (such as firefighters, law enforcement workers, police and sheriff’s patrol officers, and transit and railroad police) had a 31.9% increase in fatalities in 2021, increasing to 302 from 229 in 2020. Almost half (45.4%) of these fatalities were due to homicides (116) and suicides (21). About one-third (33.4%) were due to transportation incidents, representing the highest count (101) since 2016.

The BLS releases two annual reports that aggregate workplace injury and illness data: the CFOI, which collects fatal injury data, and the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII), which collects data on nonfatal injuries and illnesses. The 2021 SOII was released November 9 and showed that nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses decreased by 1.8% in 2021.

The CFOI relies on a variety of state, federal, and independent data sources to identify, verify, and calculate numbers and rates of fatal work injuries. For the 2021 census, the BLS reviewed over 23,900 unique source documents as part of its data collection.

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