There were 5,190 fatal work injuries in the U.S. in 2021, an 8.9% increase from 4,764 in 2020, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The fatal work injury rate for 2021 was 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers up from 3.4 per 100,000 FTE in 2020. This is also up from the 2019 pre-pandemic rate of 3.5.
This marks the highest fatal occupational injury rate since 2016, with one worker dying every 101 minutes from a work-related injury in 2021.
Transportation incidents remain most frequent fatal event
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 category accounted for 38.2% of all work-related fatalities for 2021.
The transportation and material moving occupations experienced a high of 1,523 fatal work injuries in 2021. This represents the occupational group with the highest number of fatalities, with an increase of 18.8% from 2020.
However, despite an increase from 2020 to 2021, transportation incidents are still down 6.6% from 2019 when there were 2,122 fatalities.
Fatalities involving people of color reach all-time high
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 increased from 3.5 in 2020 to 4.0 per 100,000 FTE workers in 2021.
Black or African American workers, as well as Hispanic or Latino workers had fatality rates (4.0 and 4.5 per 100,000 FTE workers, respectively) in 2021 that were higher than the all worker rate of 3.6. Transportation incidents were the highest cause of fatalities within both of these groups (267 for Black or African American workers and 383 for Hispanic or Latino workers).
The second highest cause of fatalities to Black or African American workers were injuries due to violence and other injuries by people or animals (155). Almost a quarter of Black or African American workplace fatalities (23.7%) were a result of violence and other injuries by persons or animals as opposed to 14.7% for all workers. For Hispanic or Latino workers the second highest cause of fatalities was falls, slips, or trips (272).
Women made up 8.6% of all workplace fatalities but represented 14.5% of intentional injuries by a person in 2021.
Workers between the ages of 45 and 54 suffered 1,087 workplace fatalities, a 13.9% increase from 2020, which accounted for just over one-fifth of the total of fatalities for the year, or 20.9%.
Fatalities from violence, harmful substances, falls increased
Fatalities from violence and other injuries by people or animals increased from 705 fatalities in 2020 to 761 fatalities in 2021. Intentional injuries by a person, the largest subcategory, increased 10.3% to 718 in 2021.
Exposure to harmful substances or environments reached the highest figure since this series began in 2011 with 798 worker fatalities in 2021. This category experienced the largest increase in fatalities in 2021, with an 18.8% increase over 2020. Unintentional overdoses from non-medical use of drugs or alcohol accounted for 58.1% of these fatalities, up from 57.7% in 2020.
Work-related fatalities from slips, trips and fall increased 5.6% in 2021, from 805 fatalities in 2020 to 850 in 2021. Slips, trips and falls in construction and extraction occupations accounted for 370 of these fatalities, which increased 7.2% over 2020. Despite the increase, these numbers are still down 9.3% when compared to 2019 when construction and extraction workers experienced 408 fatalities from slips, trips and falls.
OSHA, NSC respond
Doug Parker, the U.S. Department of Labor Assistant Secretary for OSHA, and the National Safety Council (NSC) expressed their disappointment with these numbers.
The BLS announcement “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,” Parker said.
“Each of these deaths cruelly impacts these workers’ families, friends, co-workers and communities,” Parker continued. “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.”
NSC President and CEO Lorraine Martin said the BLS data shows that workplaces have become less safe.
“Everyone deserves the chance to live their fullest life,” Martin said. “This report shows our mission to save lives, from the workplace to anyplace, is critical, and NSC is committed to doing its part to curb this deadly trend and put an end to preventable workplace fatalities.”