When the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics recently released its National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries report, the data showed a concerning trend: that the fatal work injury rate rose by 8.9% in 2021. Tragically, this accounts for a worker dying from a work-related injury every 101 minutes that year. This is the highest fatality rate since 2016.
Experts are still analyzing what caused workplace fatalities to rise, yet some trends are beginning to surface that may be the culprit. See what they are and understand what organizations can do to counter serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) to protect workers.
An overview of workplace fatalities in 2021
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report, released in December 2022, found there were 5,190 fatal work injuries in the United States in 2021. This was a nearly 9% increase over the 4,764 found to have happened in 2020. It accounted for 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, up from 3.4 per 100,000 FTE in 2021 as well as the pre-pandemic rate of 3.5 in 2019.
As shared in a statement by the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety:
“Each of these deaths cruelly impacts these workers’ families, friends, co-workers and communities. 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."
Workplace fatalities by the numbers
The report – which was administered in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor – compiled comprehensive data of fatal work injuries across all 50 states as the District of Columbia. The hope of the report is to monitor workplace safety and to inform private and public health efforts to improve it.
For the data to be included, the deceased must have been employed at the time of the incident, and have been fulfilling a legal work activity or been present at the site as a requirement of their job. (Note, this data does not include information on incidents that occurred during a person’s commute to or from their work.)
Some key findings about the makeup of those affected include:
- 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.
- Women made up 8.6% of all workplace fatalities.
- Workers between the ages of 45-54 suffered 1,087 workplace fatalities, a 13.9% increase from 2020.
The report also showcased information about the types of work and incidents in which the fatalities occurred:
- Workers in transportation and material-moving occupations experienced a series high of 1,523 fatal work injuries in 2021 and represent the occupational group with the highest number of fatalities – an increase of 18.8% from 2020.
- 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 major category accounted for 38.2%of all work-related fatalities for 2021.
- Exposure to harmful substances or environments led to 798 worker fatalities in 2021, the highest figure since the series began in 2011. This major event category experienced the largest increase in fatalities in 2021, increasing 18.8% from 2020.
- Work related fatalities due to falls, slips, and trips increased 5.6% in 2021. Falls, slips, and trips in construction and extraction occupations accounted for 370 of these fatalities in 2021, and an increase of 7.2% from 2020.
What might be causing the increase?
While experts continue to analyze what may have caused the increase in fatal work injuries in 2021, trends across industries could lend insights. In a survey of 1,100 safety professionals, EHS Today work safety publication asked what was the biggest workplace challenge they faced. The top answer was clear: they need more support – more employees, more staff, and more resources. As shared in the article:
“One of the lasting impacts of the pandemic is that it has driven many people out of the workplace entirely, forcing employers to scramble for ways to keep making and delivering products despite shrinking or remotely-located staff. As a result, safety leaders find themselves having to constantly train new workers (when they can find them), while reinforcing a consistent safety message throughout the workforce.”
How organizations can help prevent fatalities at work
One of the most important actions organizations can take to prevent injuries and fatalities at work is to have systems in place that monitor and track incidents. In the Campbell Institute’s white paper Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention: Leading Indicators, Cumulative Risk and Safety Networks, it found that SIF prevention starts with indicators that are proactive, preventive and predictive. The best indicators typically have similar characteristics. They are:
One way to help organizations track these important indicators and infuse them throughout their EHS strategy is through the support of technology. The EHS Today survey found leaders are more and more turning to the latest technology to help:
“Safety budgets are being used on technologies that have continued to advance in capabilities over the past several years, particularly for various digital solutions, such as artificial intelligence, data-based analytics tools, Internet of Things sensors, wearable apps and mobile devices, and virtual reality-based training modules and equipment.”
The data from the 2021 workplace fatalities report shines a light on the importance of protecting workers. Organizations must continue to address, review and update their EHS strategies to ensure everyone is protected when they step onto a job site.
How DevonWay can help
If your organization is looking to improve its SIF prevention and EHS strategy, DevonWay can help. Through its single, secure platform that aligns information and measures from across the organization, DevonWay empowers people to take action before incidents occur and enables post-incident analysis to improve safety going forward. Safety best practices are built in based on extensive experience working with high-reliability industries like nuclear power plants, national labs, and global engineering firms. Request a demo today to see how it can improve your organization's EHS strategy and help protect workers.
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