Fatal Work Injuries Increased in 2003

Dec. 15, 2004
According to the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fatal work injuries showed a slight increase in 2003 over 2002 some 5,559 injuries compared to 5,534 injuries.

However, non-fatal occupational injuries and illnesses were down, and Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao chose to focus on the positive. Noting that nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in private industry declined in 2003, both in terms of the number of cases per 100 full-time workers, as well as the total number of injury and illness cases reported. She pointed out the report shows that there were 300,000 fewer injuries and illnesses in 2003 than in 2002, a 7.1 percent decrease.

"This administration has formed more health and safety partnerships with organized labor and employer groups than any of its predecessors, and has set new records for achieving compliance through workplace inspections," said Chao. "These positive results show that our dual commitment to compliance assistance and enforcement is working."

Despite the increase in worker deaths in 2003, fatal work injuries for both 2003 and 2002 were the lowest ever recorded by the fatality census, which has been conducted each year since 1992. The rate at which fatal work injuries occurred in 2003 was 4.0 fatalities per 100,000 workers, unchanged from the rate reported for 2002.

  • The census found that fatal work injuries resulting from highway incidents, falls and electrocutions were all lower in 2003 than in 2002, while fatal injuries involving homicides, fires and explosions and being struck by objects increased.
  • Although fatal highway incidents were down in 2003 for the second consecutive year, they continued to account for the highest number of fatal work injuries. The 1,350 fatal highway incidents recorded in 2003 accounted for about one out of every four fatal work injuries. Incidents involving workers struck by vehicles or mobile equipment also were down in 2003, but the number of fatal work injuries involving non-highway transportation incidents (such as those that might occur on a farm or industrial premises) and aircraft-related incidents were both higher.
  • The number of workplace homicides was higher in 2003 the first increase since 2000. Despite the higher total, the 631 workplace homicides recorded in 2003 represented a 42 percent decline from the high of 1,080 workplace homicides recorded in 1994. Workplace suicides also were higher in 2003.
  • Fatal work injuries involving falls declined in 2003. The 691 fatal falls recorded in 2003 was the lowest total since 1996. The number of electrocutions also was lower. The 246 electrocutions in 2003 represented a decline of 15 percent from the 2002 total and reflected a series low.
  • The 198 fatal work injuries resulting from fires and explosions in 2003 was 20 percent higher than the total recorded in 2002. Fatalities from being struck by objects also were higher in 2003, led by increases in worker deaths due to being struck by a falling or flying object.

Profile of Fatal Work Injuries by Private Industry

The largest number of fatal work injuries in 2003 was in the construction sector (NAICS 23). The 1,126 fatal work injuries in private construction accounted for more than one out of every five fatalities in 2003. Specialty trade contractors (NAICS 238) recorded 626 fatalities or about 56 percent of the construction total. Another 226 construction workers were fatally injured while working in building construction (NAICS 236), including 128 fatalities in residential building construction (NAICS 2361). Heavy and civil engineering construction (NAICS 237) reported 247 fatal work injuries or about 22 percent of the construction total.

The transportation and warehousing sector (NAICS 48-49) accounted for 805 fatal work injuries or about 16 percent of the private industry total in 2003. Truck transportation (NAICS 484) recorded 517 fatal work injuries or nearly two-thirds of the transportation and warehousing total.

Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (NAICS 11) recorded 707 fatal work injuries, the third highest among NAICS sectors. Nearly half (47 percent) of the agriculture fatalities were in crop production (NAICS 111).

While private construction had the highest number of fatalities of any sector, the highest fatality rate was in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (31.2 fatalities per 100,000 workers). The second highest rate was in the mining sector (26.9 per 100,000), followed by transportation and warehousing (17.5 per 100,000) and construction (11.7 per 100,000).

Profile of Fatal Work Injuries by Demographic Characteristics

The number of fatal work injuries involving black workers was higher in 2003 after declining for the previous 3 years. The number of fatally injured black workers rose from 491 in 2002 to 542 in 2003, an increase of 10 percent. Fatalities among white, non-Hispanic workers, and Asian, native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander workers also increased in 2003.

Fatal work injuries among Hispanic or Latino workers were lower for the second consecutive year, although Hispanic workers continued to record the highest rate of fatal injuries among the racial/ethnic groups reported (4.5 fatal work injuries per 100,000 Hispanic workers). Fatal work injuries among foreign-born Hispanic workers declined for the first time ever in the fatality census, although fatalities among native-born Hispanic workers rose slightly in 2003.

The number of fatal injuries rose for workers under 25 years of age and for workers 45 years of age and older in 2003, although workers from 25 through 44 years of age recorded fewer fatalities. Workers 65 years of age and older continued to record the highest fatality rate of any age group. The rate of 11.3 fatal work injuries per 100,000 workers for workers 65 and older was more than three times the rate of 3.3 fatalities per 100,000 workers for those 25 to 34 years of age.

The total of 1,167 self-employed workers who were fatally injured in 2003 represented an increase of 11 percent over the number reported in 2002. Fatality rates for self-employed workers rose from 10.5 per 100,000 in 2002 to 11.1 per 100,000 in 2003. Fatal work injuries involving wage and salary workers were down in 2003.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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