Economy Played Role in Decrease in Fatal Work Injuries

August 19, 2010 ( – There was an overall decline of 17% for all fatal work injuries in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Preliminary findings of the 2009 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries show a total of 4,340 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2009, down from a final count of 5,214 fatal work injuries in 2008. The 2009 total represents the smallest annual preliminary total since the CFOI program was first conducted in 1992.  

According to the BLS, economic factors played a major role in the fatal work injury decrease in 2009. Total hours worked fell by 6% in 2009 following a 1% decline in 2008, and some industries that have historically accounted for a significant share of fatal work injuries, such as construction, experienced even larger declines in employment or hours worked. In addition, some source documents used by CFOI State partners to identify and verify fatal work injuries were delayed, due at least in part to fiscal constraints at some of the governmental agencies who regularly provide source documentation for the program.  

Workplace homicides declined 1% in 2009. Workplace suicides were down 10% in 2009 from the series high of 263 in 2008.  

Transportation incidents, which accounted for nearly two-fifths of all the fatal work injuries in 2009, fell 21% from the 2,130 fatal work injuries reported in 2008. Most types of transportation fatalities decreased in 2009 relative to 2008, including highway incidents (down 27%); workers struck by vehicle or mobile equipment (down 19%); aircraft incidents (down 18%); and non-highway incidents such as tractor overturns (down 8%). Fatal occupational injuries due to water vehicle incidents were higher (82 fatalities in 2009, up from 76 in 2008).  

Fatal falls declined 12% in 2009 (from 700 in 2008 to 617 in 2009). Overall, fatal falls are down 27% from the series high of 847 fatal falls reported in 2007. BLS said about half of all fatal falls occur in construction, so the decline in overall construction activity and employment since 2007 may account for the lower number of fatal falls over the past two years.   

Fatalities involving contact with objects or equipment were down 22% in 2009 after increasing in 2008, and fatal work injuries involving exposure to harmful substances or environments (such as electrocutions) were down 11%.  

Fatal work injuries among wage and salary workers in 2009 declined by 20%, while fatal injuries among self-employed workers were down 3%.  

The wholesale trade industry was one of the few major private industry sectors reporting higher numbers of fatal work injuries in 2009, up 3%.  The number of fatal workplace injuries in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations also rose 6%.  

Fatal work injuries in the private construction sector declined by 16% in 2009 following the decline of 19% in 2008.  

Fatalities among non-Hispanic black or African-American workers were down 24%. According to BLS, this worker group also experienced a slightly larger decline in total hours worked than non-Hispanic white or Hispanic workers.  

The BLS data is here.