The number of worker deaths has continued to rise over the past several years. Some occupations have consistently proven to be much more dangerous than others. The following article will discuss some recent alarming trends regarding worker deaths. It will also highlight four of the leading causes of workplace fatalities and ten of the most dangerous occupations in America.
Some Hard Facts
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the following information in the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries regarding worker fatalities in the United States in 2019:
- There were 5,333 worker deaths across the country in 2019. This was a 2% increase from the 5,250 worker deaths that occurred in 2018. The number of these deaths in 2019 was the highest it had been since 2007.
- In 2019, an employee died every 99 minutes from a work-related injury.
- The rate of workplace fatality in 2019 was 3.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent employees.
- There was a 13% increase in worker deaths for Hispanic or Latino employees, from 961 in 2018 to 1,088 in 2019. This 2019 figure was the highest number for Hispanic or Latino workplace deaths since 1992. Hispanic or Latino employees comprised 20% of all fatally injured employees in 2019.
- The majority of worker deaths in 2019 were comprised of employees between the ages of 55 and 64; out of the 5,333 worker deaths that year, these employees accounted for 1,212 of those deaths.
- The occupations with the highest number of worker deaths were construction occupations and transportation occupations (for example, truck drivers).
- About one of every five fatally injured employees was employed as a driver/sales worker or truck driver.
- Grounds maintenance workers had 229 worker fatalities in 2019, which was the highest number it had been since 2003.
- Fishing and hunting workers had the highest rate of workplace fatality among all job types, with a rate of 145 worker fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent employees.
- Out of the 5,333 workplace fatalities that occurred in 2019, the top three states with the largest number of deaths were Texas (608 deaths), California (451 deaths), and Florida (306 deaths).
Why do Worker Deaths Happen?
Workplace fatalities can result from a number of various factors but there are four leading causes of these fatalities, which are:
- Falls: Falls which occur in the workplace represent approximately 36.5% of all workplace fatalities. These include workers who fall off roofs, ladders, scaffoldings, and skyscrapers, as well as those who fall into unprotected holes or improperly constructed walking/working areas.
- Being Struck by an Object: Swinging, falling, or misplaced objects which strike workers represent approximately 10.1% of all workplace fatalities. This includes falling objects resulting from rigging failures, loose materials, and equipment malfunctions.
- Electrocutions: Electrocutions represent approximately 8.6% of all workplace fatalities. Construction sites pose a specifically high risk of electrocutions due to exposed wiring and potential wet conditions while working (i.e. rain/snow). The risk of construction workers or power line workers dying of electrocution is also heightened by overhead power lines, circuit malfunctions, and lightning strikes.
- Caught-in or Caught-Between: Incidents where employees are caught in or caught between machines, devices, or tools represent approximately 2.5% of all workplace fatalities. This includes excavation collapses, workers being caught between moving equipment, and workers being caught in collapsing materials or structures.
What Occupations Have High Worker Death Rates?
A recent article published information on the most dangerous occupations in the United States, based on 2018 worker fatality research provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The most dangerous occupations in both the public and private industries are:
Logging has been identified as one of the most dangerous occupation in America. Loggers use heavy machinery to cut down trees for raw material needed to make paper, cardboard, and other industrial products. In 2018, there were 56 on-the-job logging fatalities. Loggers have the highest fatal injury rate out of any other profession, with 111 deaths per 100,000 workers; this rate is 33 times the average rate. The most common fatal accidents that loggers experience result from contact with dangerous and heavy machinery and other objects (for example, falling trees or power lines).
Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers
Aircraft Pilots are responsible for navigating planes, helicopters, and other aircraft. In 2018, there were 70 on-the-job fatalities for these employees. Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers have an on-the-job fatality rate of 53 deaths per 100,000 workers. The most common fatal accidents that these pilots and engineers experience result from crashes in privately-owned planes and helicopters.
Derrick Operators (Oil, Gas, and Mining)
Derrick operators set up structures to drill for oil and gas and to mine for materials. In 2018, there were 20 on-the-job fatalities for these employees. Derrick Operators have an on-the-job fatality rate of 46 deaths per 100,000 workers. The most common fatal accidents that these employees experience result from transportation accidents and contact with dangerous equipment and other objects.
Roofers install, repair, and replace roofs on homes and other buildings. In 2018, there were 96 worker fatalities for these employees. Roofers have an workplace fatality rate of 41 deaths per 100,000 workers. The most common fatal accidents that these employees experience result from falling or slipping off roofs and ladders.
Garbage Collectors drive through residential neighborhoods to collect household trash. In 2018, there were 37 worker fatalities for these employees. Garbage Collectors have an worker fatality rate of 34 deaths per 100,000 workers. The most common fatal accidents that these employees experience result from being struck by a garbage truck or other vehicle.
Ironworkers install steel and iron on buildings, bridges, and roads. In 2018, there were 15 workplace fatalities for these employees. Ironworkers have an on-the-job fatality rate of 29 deaths per 100,000 workers. The most common fatal accidents that these employees experience result from falls, slips, and trips.
This group is composed of drivers/sales workers and truck drivers. These drivers transport cargo, food, and other items from distribution centers or stores to homes and businesses. In 2018, there were 966 workplace fatalities for these employees. Delivery Drivers have an worker fatality rate of 27 deaths per 100,000 workers. The most common fatal accidents that these employees experience result from traffic crashes.
This group is composed of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers. Farmers produce crops and dairy products and raise livestock for food. In 2018, there were 257 workplace fatalities for these employees. Farmers have a fatal work injury rate of 26 deaths per 100,000 workers. The most common fatal accidents that these employees experience result from crashes, including tractor crashers.
This group is composed of the first-line supervisors of firefighting and prevention workers. Firefighting Supervisors supervise and coordinate the work of firefighter employees. In 2018, there were 14 on-the-job fatalities for these employees. Firefighting Supervisors have an worker fatality rate of 20 deaths per 100,000 workers. The most common fatal accidents that these employees experience result from traffic crashes, followed by fires and explosions.
Power Linemen install power lines that supply electricity to homes and businesses. In 2018, there were 29 worker deaths for these employees. Power Linemen have an worker fatality rate of 20 deaths per 100,000 workers. The most common fatal accidents that these employees experience result from electrocutions.
Federal OSHA Violations
Worker deaths are absolutely preventable when places of business ensure that they are adhering to the appropriate workplace safety standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency that is part of the US Department of Labor. They published a list of the top 10 most frequently cited workplace violations it issued in fiscal year 2020 (October 1, 2019, through September 30, 2020). These top 10 violations are:
1. Fall Protection, construction (29 CFR 1926.501)
2. Hazard Communication Standard, general industry (29 CFR 1910.1200)
3. Respiratory Protection, general industry (29 CFR 1910.134)
4. Scaffolding, general requirements, construction (29 CFR 1926.451)
5. Ladders, construction (29 CFR 1926.1053)
6. Control of Hazardous Energy (lockout/tagout), general industry (29 CFR 1910.147)
7. Powered Industrial Trucks, general industry (29 CFR 1910.178)
8. Fall Protection–Training Requirements (29 CFR 1926.503)
9. Eye and Face Protection (29 CFR 1926.102)
10. Machinery and Machine Guarding, general requirements (29 CFR 1910.212)
The Impact of Coronavirus on Worker Deaths
Since the BLS study, the data source that the majority of these numbers come from, the Covid -19 pandemic has had a serious impact on worker death rates in frontline occupations. According to the Guardian, the number of US healthcare worker deaths from March 2020 to April 2021 reached 3,600. Compare that to the number of total national worker deaths in all industries in 2018 (5,250 total deaths) and you begin to get a sense of the toll this had on the healthcare profession. A lack of sufficient personal protective equipment was found to be a major contributor to exposing workers to Covid-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that healthcare workers who died tended to be older Black and Asian men who had an underlying medical condition. Most healthcare worker deaths actually were not people who worked in hospitals, but in nursing and residential care facilities.
The largest incidence of healthcare worker deaths from Covid occurred early in the pandemic, with the worst month being April 2020. After this significant loss, these numbers do show that healthcare facilities received increasingly better provisions of PPE as time went on, allowing better protection for their workers. Early access to vaccinations for healthcare workers also undoubtedly played a role in improving worker safety since the beginning of the pandemic. In the case of another healthcare crisis in the future, we can only hope that gov agencies were able to learn from this loss and will carry over what they learned from the Coronavirus pandemic.
Do You Have a Personal Injury Claim? Contact an Illinois Attorney
If you have a personal injury claim, please contact the Palermo Law Group located in Oak Brook, Illinois. Our firm specializes in various types of personal injury claims, including car accidents, construction accidents, medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, and wrongful death claims. If you would like to contact our offices, you can do so here.