9% Increase in Work Fatalities in 2021 is Call to Action Says Labor Secretary

9% Increase in Work Fatalities in 2021 is Call to Action

Dec. 19, 2022
“Each of these deaths cruelly impacts these workers’ families, friends, co-workers and communities. They are clear reminders of the important work that must be done," said OSHA's Doug Parker.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the 2021 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, on December 16, and the news was not good. 

“Today’s announcement by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of a one-year increase of nearly 9% in fatal work injuries serves as a call to action for OSHA, employers, and other stakeholders to redouble our collective efforts to make our nation’s workplaces safer, " said Doug Parker, Department of Labor's Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health.

“In 2021, 5,190 workers suffered fatal work injuries, equating to one worker death in the U.S. every 101 minutes, including 653 Black workers, whose fatality rate hit an all-time high. Black and Latino workers also had fatality rates disproportionately higher than their co-workers in 2021. These are deeply troubling facts," Parker added.

The fatal work injury rate was 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, up from 3.4 per 100,000 FTE in 2020 and up from the 2019 pre-pandemic rate of 3.5.  These data are from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI).  

Key findings from the 2021 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries are as follows:

  • The 3.6 fatal occupational injury rate in 2021 represents the highest annual rate since 2016.
  • 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 this group climbed to 653 in 2021 from 541 in 2020, a 20.7% increase. The fatality rate for this group 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 a series high of 1,523 fatal work injuries in 2021 and represent the occupational group with the highest number of fatalities. This is 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. This major category accounted for 38.2% of all work-related fatalities for 2021.     

Fatal event or exposure

  • Despite experiencing an increase from 2020 to 2021, transportation incidents are still down 6.6% from 2019 when there were 2,122 fatalities.
  • Fatalities due to violence and other injuries by persons or animals increased to 761 fatalities in 2021 from 705 fatalities in 2020 (7.9%). The largest subcategory, intentional injuries by person, increased 10.3% to 718 in 2021.
  •  Exposure to harmful substances or environments led to 798 worker fatalities in 2021, the highest figure since the series began in 2011. This major event category experienced the largest increase in fatalities in 2021, increasing 18.8% from 2020. Unintentional overdose from nonmedical use of drugs or alcohol accounted for 58.1% of these fatalities (464 deaths), up from 57.7% of this category’s total in 2020.
  • Work-related fatalities due to falls, slips, and trips increased 5.6% in 2021, from 805 fatalities in 2020 to 850 in 2021. Falls, slips, and trips in construction and extraction occupations accounted for 370 of these fatalities in 2021, and an increase of 7.2% from 2020 when there were 345 fatalities. Despite the increase, this is still down 9.3% from 2019 when construction and extraction occupations experienced 408 fatalities due to this event.    

“Each of these deaths cruelly impacts these workers’ families, friends, co-workers and communities," said Parker, in a statement. "They are clear reminders of the important work that must be done. OSHA and its thousands of professionals across the nation are determined to enforce the law while working with employers, workers, labor unions, trade associations and other stakeholders to ensure that every worker in the U.S. ends their workday safely.”

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