Most Hazadous Occupations


Since the first workers compensation law was enacted about a century ago, the American workplace has become considerably safer. Loud, dirty factories have been replaced by clean office complexes and industrial parks. Most states require employers to purchase a workers compensation policy. If any workers are injured on the job the policy pays them the benefits mandated by state law.

While workplaces have improved over the last 100 years, serious accidents still occur. In December of 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issued a report called the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2016. The report shows that there were 5,190 fatal work injuries in 2016.

The BLS report provides some insight into both the causes of fatal injuries and the distribution of such injuries across major industries. Many injuries had similar causes. Also, some industries experienced significantly more workplace deaths than others.

Bad News

The BLS report provides mostly bad news. First, the overall rate of fatal injuries was 3.6. This was the highest fatal injury rate since 2010. It was higher than the rate in 2015, which was 3.6. Older workers (age 55 and over) sustained 1,848 fatal injuries in 2016. This is the highest rate recorded for this group since 1992.

There is also bad news with respect to workplace homicides and suicides. The total number of homicides increased to 500, the highest number since 2010. Workplace suicides increased to 291, the largest number since 1992. Workplace deaths from overdoses of non-medical drugs or alcohol increased to 217, a 32% increased from the previous year. 

There were 160 fatal injuries involving Asian, non-Hispanic workers in 2016. In 2015, this group sustained 114 fatal injuries. Fatal injuries also increased for Black or African-American, non-Hispanic workers. In 2016, there were 587 fatalities in this group compared to 495 in 2015.

Fatal injuries among workers in the leisure and hospitality industries increased from 225 in 2015 to 298 in 2016. Also, workers in a number of occupations sustained the highest number of fatalities since 2003. These included first-line supervisors in construction trades and extraction workers (134), landscaping and groundskeeping workers (125), roofers (101), tree trimmers and pruners (84), drivers and sales workers (71), automotive service technicians and mechanics (64), and workers involved in farming, ranching or aquaculture (61).

Causes of Worker Deaths

The BLS classifies worker deaths based on the six categories listed below. The chart shows the total number of fatalities and the percentage of the total (4836) for each category. For example, 2054 transportation incidents constitute about 42% of 4836. (The percentages don't add up to 100 because of rounding.)

Cause of Fatalities Number of Fatalities % of Total
Transportation Incidents 2083 40.1%
Violence 866 16.7%
Contact with Objects or Equipment 761 14.7%
Slips, Trips, Falls 849 16.3%
Exposure to Harmful Substance 518 10.0%
Fires, Explosions 88 1.0%

Transportation Incidents include roadway and non-roadway accidents that involve motorized land vehicles (autos and mobile machinery). According to the BLS, roadway incidents accounted for 24% of all fatal accidents in 2016. Clearly, autos and mobile equipment are a major workplace hazard. Transportation incidents were involved in 40% of fatal accidents in 2016. Of the 2083 fatalities that resulted from transportation incidents, approximately 60% occurred on a roadway.

The Violence category includes workplace homicide, suicide, and injury caused by animals. Workplace homicides increased almost 20% from 2015.

A substantial portion of the fatalities (16.3%) that occurred in 2016 resulted from slips and falls. The bulk of the incidents (82%) involved a fall from a higher level to a lower level.

Most Hazardous Industries

The BLS considers fatalities in terms of both absolute numbers and fatality rates (number of fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers). Some industries employ many more workers than others. Thus, the fatality rate can be more meaningful than the absolute number of deaths.

Here are the ten most hazardous industries (based on fatality rate) in descending order. The chart shows both the number of fatalities and the fatality rate for each industry group.

Industry # Fatalities Fatality Rate
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, Hunting 593 23.2
Transportation, Warehousing 825 14.3
Mining, Quarrying, Gas & Oil Extraction 89 10.1
Construction 991 10.1
Wholesale Trade 179 4.8
Arts, Entertainment, Recreation 96 3.9
Real Estate, Rental and Leasing 91 3.2
Other Services 223 3.2
Utilities 30 2.8
Accommodation, Food Services 202 2.2
Manufacturing 318 2.0

Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, Hunting had a higher fatality rate than any other industry group. The second most hazardous industry group was Transportation and Warehousing. Two other industries with high fatality rates were Mining, Quarrying etc. and Construction. The remaining industries on the list had much lower death rates than the top four.