The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just released its 2018 data for fatal occupational injuries. As with many government reports, much of the data reflects common sense with a few interesting outliers.
In 2018, 5,250 people sustained fatal injuries at work. To put that into perspective, an estimated 609,640 Americans died of cancer in 2018, 116 times as many as who died as a result of a workplace accident. Of those 5,250, 40% were killed as the result of a transportation accident, most of which involved roadway collisions. The second-largest category of fatal injury in 2018 was “Violence and other injuries by persons or animals” with 828 deaths, displacing 2017’s No. 2, “Fall, slip, trip.” The increase in workplace violence was driven by workplace suicides rising from 275 in 2017 to 304 in 2018. In 2011, there were 250 workplace suicides.
The states with the highest workplace fatality rates in 2018 were: Wyoming, at 11.5 deaths per 100,000 full time equivalent workers; Alaska, 9.9; and North Dakota, 9.6. These states have a large proportion of jobs within the higher-risk “Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction” industries which saw 14.1 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2018 vs. the overall workplace rate of 3.5 per 100,000. The states with the lowest on the job fatality rates were: Delaware, 1.6; Rhode Island, 1.8; and New Jersey, 2.0.
The most dangerous occupational category in 2018 was “Farming, fishing, and forestry” with 22.8 deaths per 100,000 workers, up from 20.9 in 2017, with 262 people dying as the result of their duties at work. There’s a reason “Deadliest Catch” is a reality television show. The safest occupational category in 2018, as it was in 2017, were in the “Computer and mathematical” field at 0.2 deaths per 100,000. That a worker is more than 110 times more likely to be die on a crab fishing boat than in front of a computer in an air-conditioned office isn’t much of a revelation. Members of the military aren’t counted in this survey.
Firefighters and law enforcement personnel suffered a 7.4 per 100,000 workers fatality rate in 2018, or, a little more than twice as likely to die on the job than the average American worker at 3.5, but one-third as likely to have a fatal injury than a worker engaged in farming, fishing, or forestry. The greatest threat to first responders is traffic accidents.
There’s a wide range of fatality rates for age, gender and whether a person is an employee or self-employed. Those 65 years and older experienced a workplace fatality rate of 9.6 in 2018 vs. 1.0 for workers aged 16 to 17. Men died at a rate 9.5 times greater than did women, 5.7 to 0.6. And the self-employed were more than four times likely to die on the job than were wage or salary workers, 12.7 to 2.9. Wage and salary workers are more likely to work in an office compared to self-employed workers who frequently work as truckers or as contractors.
People tend to work in their fields of choice to the extent they can. Further, the likelihood of serious injury is priced into the work. The highest paying common and non-supervisorial occupations that don’t typically require a college degree are: “Petroleum Pump System Operators, Refinery Operators, and Gaugers” who earned an average of $70,630 in May 2018; “Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers” with an average salary of $70,240; and police officers with an average salary of $65,460. At the other end of the salary spectrum were the 4.2 million “Fast Food and Counter Workers” who earned an average of $22,260 in 2018.
The good news is that the rate of workplace fatalities has generally fallen as the main cause of injury—transportation accidents—have declined as safety equipment in vehicles, as well as roadway design, continue to improve.