Safety and OSHA News

Workplace deaths down overall, but spikes appear in some categories

After a one-time jump of 7% from 2015 to 2016, the number of workplace deaths fell slightly in 2017.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says there were 5,147 fatal work injuries in the U.S. in 2017, down 1% from 5,190 in 2016.

The fatal injury rate decreased to 3.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers from 3.6 in 2016.

Why did the number of workplace deaths drop only a small amount year-to-year?

  • Fatal falls were at their highest level in the 26-year history of BLS data, accounting for 887 deaths – 17% of the total
  • Transportation incidents remained the most frequent fatal event with 2,077 deaths (40%)
  • Unintentional overdoses due to non-medical use of drugs or alcohol while at work increased 25% – the fifth consecutive year with an increase in the category, and
  • Fatal injuries involving confined space rose 15%.

Two occupational groups (transportation and material moving, and construction and extraction) accounted for 47% of worker deaths in 2017.

Driver/sales workers and truck drivers, heavy and tractor-trailer drivers, had the largest number of total injuries in one occupational subgroup: 840. Fishers and related fishing workers and logging workers had the highest rate of fatal injury: 99.8 per 100,000 FTE workers.

Grounds maintenance workers suffered 244 fatalities in 2017, a small decrease from 2016, but the second-highest total since 2003.

Some other key findings from BLS:

  • Fifteen percent of fatally injured workers in 2017 were age 65 or over – an all-time high
  • Fatalities in manufacturing and wholesale trade were at their lowest since records were kept starting in 2003
  • Deaths in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction increased 26% in 2017, and
  • Twenty-seven states had fewer fatalities in 2017, while 21 states and the District of Columbia had more; California and Maine had the same number as 2016.

Reaction: We can do better

“While today’s report shows a decline in the number of workplace fatalities, the loss of even one worker is too many,” said Loren Sweatt, acting head of OSHA. “The scourge of opioid addiction unfortunately continues to take its toll on workers across the country,” Sweatt added.

The National Safety Council called on all employers to take a systematic approach to safety, including policies and training to address the major causes of fatalities and injuries.

AFL-CIO health and safety director Peg Seminario noted the falling number of OSHA and MSHA inspectors in the wake of the BLS report.

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