According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of fatal work injuries in 2020 was the lowest since 2013.
There were 4,764 fatal work injuries recorded in the United States in 2020, a 10.7% decrease from 5,333 in 2019. Of course, the number of fatalities is an absolute figure; while the working population continues to grow, the fatality rates continue to decline. The fatal work injury rate in 2020 was 3.4 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers, down from 3.5 per 100,000 full-time workers in 2019 and a high of 3.6 per 100,000 full-time workers in 2016.
The largest workplace killer, in absolute terms, was “Transportation Incidents,” with 1,778 fatalities in 2020. Intentional workplace violence such as homicides and suicides resulted in 651 fatalities, and exposure to harmful substances or environments led to 672 worker fatalities in 2020, the highest figure since the series began in 2011, according to the BLS. Within this category, unintentional overdose from nonmedical use of drugs accounted for 57.7 percent of fatalities (388 deaths), up from 48.8 percent in 2019. While neither workplace violence nor overdosing from drugs and alcohol are regulated by OSHA standards, employers should develop programs to address these very real hazards.
Notably, in 2020, workers age 55 and older accounted for over 33% of workplace fatalities, despite being only 25% of the workforce. According to the CDC, this might be explained by workers older than 55 already having underlying pre-existing conditions that may be exacerbated by workplace conditions.
These declining fatality numbers demonstrate the benefits of qualified safety and health professionals in the workplace, safety and health programs, new safety technologies, widespread employee training, and sound workplace safety legal advice.