BLS Report: Lowest Total Worker Fatalities Since 2013

Pandemic disruptions likely a significant factor in decline.

December 17, 2021

ITASCA, IL – The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual report on workplace fatalities for 2020, and the results show that during the pandemic, worker deaths decreased by 10.7% in 2020 compared to 2019, with 4,764 fatal workplace injuries. This represents the lowest annual number of workplace injury deaths since 2013. 

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. Despite these disruptions, it is encouraging that the fatality rate also dropped from 3.5 to 3.4 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. The decrease in the rate indicates an overall decreased risk of injury death on the job.

Some of the key takeaways from the report are:

  • The fatal work injury rate was 3.4 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, down from 3.5 per 100,000 FTE in 2019; a worker died every 111 minutes from a work-related injury in 2020
  • Hours worked decreased 9% in 2020, from 296.6 billion hours to 269.9 billion 
  • Transportation incidents remained the most frequent type of fatal event with 1,778 fatal injuries, accounting for 37.3% of all work-related fatalities
  • Although the overall fatality rate decreased, the fatality rate among Hispanic or Latino workers increased, from 4.2 to 4.5 deaths per 100,000 workers
  • Unintentional overdose from nonmedical use of drugs increased 24% and accounted for 388 deaths, compared to 313 in 2019
  • Suicides decreased 15.6%, from 307 in 2019 to 259 in 2020, representing the lowest count for occupational suicides since 2015

The BLS report reminds us how important it is to use a data-driven and risk-based approach to measure and lead safety performance. The National Safety Council encourages companies to prioritize efforts in addressing the leading causes of workplace fatalities through evidence-based and effective risk management strategies, including consulting the following NSC resources:  

While it’s good news that fatalities have declined, fatalities should never be the cost of doing business. NSC is doubling down on efforts like the Work to Zero initiative to help companies of all sizes keep their workers safe by understanding the technology to help them do so, including technology like drones, fatigue monitoring and wearables, proximity sensors and virtual or augmented reality. To ensure each worker makes it home safely each day, employers need a systematic approach to safety that includes having policies, training and risk assessment techniques in place to address major causes of fatalities and injuries. Leadership must set the tone and engage all workers in safety, identify hazards and measure safety performance using leading indicators to continuously improve. 

About the National Safety Council
The National Safety Council is America’s leading nonprofit safety advocate – and has been for over 100 years. As a mission-based organization, we work to eliminate the leading causes of preventable death and injury, focusing our efforts on the workplace, roadway and impairment. We create a culture of safety to not only keep people safer at work, but also beyond the workplace so they can live their fullest lives.

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