The Most Hazadous American Occupations

More Workers Die From Vehicle Accidents Than Any Other Cause

Cartoon of worker who has sustained an electric shock

Working conditions in the U.S. have improved substantially since 1911 when Wisconsin passed the country's first comprehensive workers compensation law. Office parks and industrial complexes have replaced dirty factories and dusty mines. Federal law guarantees employees are provided a safe place to work. Most workers are eligible for workers compensation benefits if they are injured on the job.

While workplaces have become much safer over the last century, serious accidents still occur. Thousands of workers are killed on the job each year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects data on worker fatalities, analyzes the data, and summarizes its findings in yearly reports. The latest report (published in December of 2018) concerns workplace fatalities that occurred in 2017.

Highlights

Here are some highlights of the 2017 data:

  • Fatal injuries down. The number of fatalities declined slightly, from 5,190 in 2016 to 5,147 in 2017. The fatal injury rate fell to 3.5 from 3.6.
  • Falls increased. There were 887 fatal falls in 2017, the highest number in 26 years. The number of fall-related fatalities increased 4.5% over the previous year.
  • Drug & alcohol deaths rose. Deaths due to unintentional overdoses of drugs or alcohol increased 25 percent over the previous year (from 217 to 272).
  • Transportation accidents a major cause of death. As in previous years, motor vehicle accidents caused more fatalities than any other type of event.
  • Crane-related fatalities fell. In 2017, 33 workers died in accidents involving cranes. This is the lowest number of crane-related deaths ever recorded by the BLS.
  • More older workers killed. Fifteen percent of the workers who died on the job were 65 or older. In 1992, that figure was 8%.

In 2017, slip and fall accidents accounted for 17% of all worker deaths. Falls may occur on one level or from a higher level to a lower one.

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 (5,147) for each category. For example, 2077 transportation incidents constitute about 40% of 5147. The percentages don't add up to 100 because of rounding.

Causes of Fatal Injuries
Cause Number of Fatalities % of Total
Transportation Incidents 2077 40.3%
Slips, Trips, Falls 887 17.2%
Violence 807 15.7%
Contact with Objects & Equipment 695 13.5%
Exposure to Harmful Substance 531 10.3%
Fires & Explosions 123 2.4%

Transportation Incidents include roadway and non-roadway accidents that involve motorized land vehicles (autos and mobile machinery). According to the BLS, transportation incidents accounted for 40% of all fatal accidents in 2017. Clearly, autos and mobile equipment are a major workplace hazard.

The Violence category includes workplace homicide, suicide, and injury caused by animals. Workplace violence incidents decreased in 2017, from 866 to 807. Violence by persons or animals declined by 7 percent. Homicides at the workplace decreased by 8% while suicides decreased by 5%.

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). Because some industries employ many more workers than others, 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.

Occupations With High Fatal Injury Rates in 2017
Industry # Fatalities Fatality Rate
Fishing 41 99.8
Logging 55 84.3
Aircraft Pilots & Flight Engineers 59 48.6
Roofers 91 45.2
Refuse & Recyclable Materials Collectors 30 35.0
Structural Iron & Steel Workers 14 33.4
Driver/Sales Workers & Truck Drivers 987 26.8
Farmers, Ranchers & Other Ag. Mgrs. 258 24.0
Supervisors of Landscaping, Lawn & Grounds 53 21.0
Elec. Power Line Installers & Repairers 26 18.7

Forty-seven percent of the fatalities that occurred in 2017 involved workers in two occupational groups: transportation and material moving, and construction and extraction.

Fishing, logging, roofing, driving, and agriculture remain some of the most hazardous occupations for workers. The BLS notes that within the occupational subgroup driver/sales workers and truck drivers, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers sustained 840 fatal injuries. This is the highest number recorded for heavy truck drivers since 2003.

Also notable is the fact that 63% of the farmers or ranchers who died on the job in 2017 were 65 and over. Of the 258 deaths that occurred, 103 involved a farm tractor.

Article Sources

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2017", accessed Oct. 2, 2019.