Skip to content

Photo by iStock

Workplace Deaths Reach Highest Point Since 2007

On-the-job deaths in the United States in 2018 reached their highest level since 2007, according to Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries data released in December 2019 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In 2018, a total of 5,250 workers died in the United States as a result of on-the-job injuries—a 2 percent increase from 2017. The overall rate of fatal workplace injuries remained unchanged between 2017 and 2018—3.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.

Transportation-related deaths accounted for 40 percent of work-related fatalities. Driver/sales workers and truck drivers experienced 966 fatal injuries, the most of any broad occupation group and a 15 percent increase from 2017.

The second most common workplace fatalities involved contact with objects or equipment—including workers caught in running machinery or hit by falling objects—which increased 13 percent to 786 incidents in 2018. Apart from transportation, industries with the highest recorded rates of fatal injuries were logging, fishing, farming, and construction.

Independent workers—defined by BLS as people who are likely self-employed or performing short-term jobs with “no guarantee of future work beyond the task,” like gig economy workers—accounted for 11.8 percent of all fatal work-related injuries. In 2016 and 2017, this group accounted for 1,275 of the 10,337 fatal occupational injuries reported.

“Independent workers are be an at-risk group because of their fluid employment situation, which potentially puts them at greater risk for poorer workplace safety and health outcomes,” wrote Stephen Pegula and Matt Gunter, economists from the BLS Office of Compensation and Working Conditions. Heavy- and tractor-trailer truck drivers were the most affected, with 173 fatal occupational injuries from 2016 through 2017.

Fatal workplace incidents caused by violence or other injuries by persons or animals rose slightly, from 807 in 2017 to 828 in 2018.

Deaths related to unintentional overdoses from nonmedical drug or alcohol use while at work rose more than 12 percent in 2018 to 305 fatal injuries, BLS reported.

Suicide rates at work also increased, according to the BLS report. There were 304 workplace suicides in 2018—an 11 percent increase from 2017 and the highest number since BLS began tracking the data 26 years ago. The bureau warns that this figure likely undercounts the true total because it is often difficult to determine whether the suicide happened while the person was engaged in work or at a worksite, The Washington Post reported. The count does not include ambiguous deaths such as drug overdoses.