Workplace fatalities were down almost 11% in 2020, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, but keep in mind that those new numbers do not factor in any COVID-19 cases.
There was an 11.7% decrease in fatal workplace injuries in 2020 – from 5,333 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers in 2019 down to 4,764 in 2020 – but the BLS states this data doesn’t report any illness-related information.
The BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries doesn’t cover fatal workplace illnesses that weren’t precipitated by a physical injury, a news release on these statistics states.
COVID-19 did have an effect on BLS injury/illness data for 2020, but workplace illnesses are counted for those statistics.
“While the report does not include COVID-19 illness deaths, the decrease in hours worked, resulting from the economic disruption triggered by the pandemic, likely played a substantial role in the decline,” the National Safety Council stated in a news release.
“Reacting to the latest fatality data brings unique challenges because the numbers may not paint a clear picture of the reality of 2020,” American Society of Safety Professionals President Brad Giles said in a news release. “Any reported decrease in worker deaths is encouraging, but this data does not reflect the devastating impact of COVID-19 on many worker populations.”
Transportation fatalities most frequent type
So if COVID-19 is ruled out as the potential top workplace cause of death, then what takes its place?
Transportation incidents remained the most frequent type of fatal workplace incident with 1,778 fatalities accounting for 37.3% of all workplace fatalities.
However, even those numbers were down compared to 2019, with a 16.2% drop from the 2,122 deaths that occurred in transportation incidents in that year.
Workers in transportation and material moving occupations accounted for nearly half of all fatal occupational injuries along with those in construction and extraction.
That comes out to 47.4% of the total number of fatal occupational injuries, representing 2,258 workplace deaths.
Violence, suicide numbers down
Fatalities due to violence and other injuries by persons or animals decreased from 841 fatalities in 2019 to 705 fatalities in 2020, a drop of 16.2%.
And while women made up 8.1% of all fatalities, they represented 16.3% of workplace homicides in 2020.
The largest subcategory, intentional injuries by person, decreased 14.5% to 651 in 2020.
Suicides decreased as well, down 15.6% from 2019’s 307 deaths to 259 in 2020. That’s the lowest count for occupational suicides since 2015.
Other key findings
- The fatality rate for Hispanic or Latino workers was 4.5 deaths per 100,000 FTE workers in 2020, up from 4.2 in 2019. Overall, the share of Hispanic or Latino workers fatally injured on the job continued to grow, increasing to 22.5% (1,072 fatalities) from 20.4% (1,088 fatalities) in 2019.
- Black or African American workers had a 14.7% decrease in occupational fatalities in 2020, down from 634 in 2019 to 541 in 2020.
- Workers between the ages of 45 and 54 suffered 954 fatal injuries in 2020, the lowest count for this age group since 1992.
- Sales occupations and office/administration support occupations had a 19% decrease in fatal occupational injuries between 2019 (332 deaths) and 2020 (269 deaths).
- Fatalities in healthcare support occupations increased 15.8% to 44 fatalities, up from 38 in 2019.
- Exposure to harmful substances or environments led to 672 fatalities in 2020, the highest number since the series began in 2011. Within this category, unintentional overdose from nonmedical use of drugs accounted for 57.7% of fatalities, or 388 deaths, up from 48.8% in 2019.