Report shows workplace fatalities decreased substantially

RP news wires, Noria Corporation

A total of 5,071 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2008, down from a total of 5,657 fatal work injuries reported for 2007, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on August 20. While the 2008 results are preliminary, this figure represents the smallest annual preliminary total since the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program was first conducted in 1992. Final results for 2008 will be released in April 2010.


Based on these preliminary counts, the rate of fatal injury for U.S. workers in 2008 was 3.6 fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, down from the final rate of 4.0 in 2007. Please see the text box at the bottom of this page which describes an important change in the way the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculated rates this year.


Key findings of the 2008 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries:

·        Fatal work injuries in the private construction sector in 2008 declined by 20 percent from the updated 2007 total, twice the all-worker decline of 10 percent.

·        Fatal workplace falls, which had risen to a series high in 2007, also declined by 20 percent in 2008.

·        Workplace suicides were up 28 percent to a series high of 251 cases in 2008, but workplace homicides declined 18 percent in 2008.

·        The number and rate of fatal work injuries among 16 to 17-year-old workers were higher in 2008.

·        Fatal occupational injuries involving Hispanic or Latino workers in 2008 were 17 percent lower than in 2007. Fatalities among non-Hispanic Black or African American workers were down 16 percent.

·        The number of fatal workplace injuries in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations rose 6 percent in 2008 after declining in 2007.

·        Transportation incidents, which accounted for approximately two-fifths of all the workplace fatalities in 2008, fell 13 percent from the previous series low of 2,351 cases reported in 2007.


In June 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics introduced improved fatality rates for the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). The new rates, based on hours worked as opposed to employment, are considered to be more accurate in measuring the risk of dying from an injury on the job. Further information on the rates is available at: Hours-based rates for years 2006 through 2008 and employment-based rates for years 1992 through 2007 can be found at:


Economic factors likely played a role in the fatality decrease. Average hours worked at the national level fell by 1 percent in 2008, and some industries that have historically accounted for a significant share of worker fatalities, such as construction, experienced larger declines in employment or hours worked.


In addition to the impact of declining employment, another factor that should be considered when reviewing these preliminary results is how the economy may have impacted the government agencies that provide source documents used in the compilation of CFOI data. Budget constraints at some of these governmental agencies may have delayed the receipt and processing of the documents that are used by our State partners to classify and code CFOI cases. The average net increase in CFOI cases as a result of updates over the past two years has been 153 cases, but the updated 2008 counts scheduled for release in April 2010 have the potential to be larger because of these delays.


Profile of 2008 fatal work injuries by type of incident

Most types of transportation fatalities saw decreases in 2008 relative to 2007, including highway incidents (down 19 percent); railway incidents (down 31 percent); workers struck by vehicle or mobile equipment (down 7 percent); and non-highway incidents such as tractor overturns (down 4 percent). Aircraft-related fatalities were higher in 2008 (189 incidents in 2008, up from 174 incidents in 2007), as were water vehicle incidents.


The 680 fatal falls in 2008 represent a 20 percent decline from the series high of 847 fatal falls in 2007. Fatal falls to a lower level, which accounted for 85 percent of all falls, were down 23 percent in 2008. Fatal falls from roofs were down 26 percent and falls from ladders decreased by 14 percent. The number of fatal falls on same level (to a floor or walkway or against an object) increased slightly in 2008.


Workplace suicides rose from 196 cases in 2007 to 251 cases in 2008, an increase of 28 percent and the highest number ever reported by the fatality census. Suicides among protective service occupations rose from 14 in 2007 to 25 in 2008. Workplace homicides fell by 18 percent in 2008. Overall, the 2008 preliminary workplace homicide count (517 workplace homicides) represents a decline of 52 percent from the high of 1,080 homicides reported in 1994.


The number of fatal work injuries involving fires and explosions was up 14 percent in 2008; fatalities involving contact with objects or equipment were also up slightly in 2008.


Profile of fatal work injuries by industry

Overall, 90 percent of the fatal work injuries involved workers in private industry. Service-providing industries in the private sector recorded 46 percent of all fatal work injuries in 2008, while goods-producing industries recorded 43 percent. Ten percent of the fatal work injury cases in 2008 involved government workers. The number of fatal work injuries in the private sector decreased 11 percent in 2008, and fatalities among government workers, including resident military personnel, decreased 4 percent. Fatality rates were lower in 2008 for both goods-producing industries and service-providing industries, but remained unchanged for civilian government workers.


While workers in construction incurred the most fatalities of any industry in the private sector in 2008, the number of fatalities in construction declined 20 percent, from 1,204 cases in 2007 to 969 cases in 2008. Fatalities involving workers in the construction of buildings were down 21 percent from 2007, with most of the decrease occurring in residential building construction (down 28 percent to 93 cases). Heavy and civil engineering construction was down 14 percent, and the subsector with the largest number of fatalities, specialty trade contractors, had 19 percent fewer fatalities in 2008 than in 2007.


Fatalities rose by 11 percent among private sector workers in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industry sector in 2008 after declining in 2007. Fatalities to workers in crop production led the increase, rising 18 percent, while fatalities to workers in animal production declined 8 percent. Fishing and logging, two of the industries with the highest fatality rates, had higher numbers of fatalities in 2008. Fatalities were also slightly higher in manufacturing (404 in 2008, up from 400 fatalities in 2007). Included in the manufacturing total are the 14 workers who perished in a sugar refinery explosion in Georgia in February 2008.


Among service-providing industries, workers in the transportation and warehousing sector incurred 762 fatalities, a 14 percent decrease. Truck transportation, the largest subsector in transportation and warehousing, had a 20 percent decrease in fatalities in 2008. Among other transportation sectors, workers in air and water transportation industries incurred fewer fatalities in 2008, but the number of fatal work injuries in rail transportation increased.


Both wholesale and retail trade had fewer fatal work injuries in 2008 than in 2007. Fatalities were down 17 percent in retail trade and 15 percent in wholesale trade in 2008.


Other service-providing industry sectors with large declines in 2008 included the information industry (down 43 percent), professional and business services (down 18 percent), the leisure and hospitality industry (down 10 percent), and educational and health services (down 8 percent). Fatalities in the finance and insurance sector were down nearly 50 percent in 2008, from 46 to 24 fatalities.


Fatalities among government workers were down 4 percent. While fatalities incurred by federal and local government workers decreased in 2008, fatalities among state government workers were at the highest level since 1998 (115 fatal work injuries in 2008).


Profile of fatal work injuries by occupation

About one-fourth of all occupational fatalities in 2008 involved workers in transportation and material moving occupations, though fatalities among these workers declined by 12 percent in 2008. Driver/sales workers and truck drivers, the largest occupation group in this sector, led the decline with 16 percent fewer fatal work injuries in 2008 than in 2007. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck driver fatalities were lower by 13 percent.


Fatalities in construction and extraction occupations, which accounted for nearly one-fifth of all fatalities in 2008, decreased by 18 percent from the previous year. Construction laborer fatalities were down 31 percent (from 345 in 2007 to 239 in 2008). Carpenters, brick masons, electricians, roofers, pipe layers, plumbers and extraction workers were among the other groups that saw declines in 2008. First-line supervisors/managers of construction trades and extraction workers, construction equipment operators, and painters/paperhangers were among the occupational groups in construction and extraction that had higher numbers of fatal injuries in 2008.


Fatal work injuries among protective service occupations fell by 13 percent in 2008 after rising 22 percent from 2006 to 2007. Fewer fatalities among law enforcement workers (down 15 percent), fire fighting and prevention workers (down 14 percent), and security guards (down 23 percent) led the decline in this occupational group.


Among the occupation groups with a higher number of fatalities in 2008 were farming, fishing, and forestry (up 6 percent) and management occupations (up 2 percent). Four occupations with particularly high fatality rates in 2008 were fishers and related fishing workers with a fatality rate of 128.9 per 100,000 FTE’s, logging workers (115.7), aircraft pilots and flight engineers (72.4), and structural iron and steel workers (46.4).


Profile of fatal work injuries by demographic characteristics

While the number of fatal work injuries among White, non-Hispanic workers fell 8 percent in 2008, greater declines were observed among non-Hispanic Black or African American workers (down 16 percent) and Hispanic or Latino workers (down 17 percent).


The decline in fatal work injuries among Hispanic or Latino workers in 2008 primarily involved foreign-born Hispanic or Latino workers. Fatalities among foreign-born Hispanic or Latino workers were lower by 24 percent (from 634 in 2007 to 480 in 2008), but among native-born Hispanics, the decline was only 3 percent.


Overall, 795 fatal work injuries were incurred by workers who were born outside of the United States – a decline of 21 percent from 2007. Fatalities involving foreign-born workers accounted for 16 percent of all fatal work injuries in the U.S. Of the foreign-born workers who were fatally-injured in the U.S. in 2008, the largest share (42 percent) was born in Mexico.


The number of fatalities declined for all age categories in 2008 except for 16 to 17 year-old workers. Fatality rates for 16 to 17 year-old workers rose from 1.9 in 2007 to 2.5 in 2008.


Self-employed workers had a 4 percent drop in fatalities, while fatalities among wage and salary workers fell by 12 percent. Workplace fatalities among both male and female workers decreased in 2008.


Profile of fatal work injuries by state

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia reported lower numbers of fatal work injuries in 2008 than in 2007, 14 states reported higher numbers, and one state was unchanged. For more detailed state results, contact the individual state agency responsible for the collection of CFOI data in that State. Although data for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are not included in the national totals for this release, results for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are available. Participating agencies and their telephone numbers are listed in Table 6.


Background of the program

The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, part of the BLS occupational safety and health statistics program, compiles a count of all fatal work injuries occurring in the U.S. during the calendar year. The program uses diverse State, federal, and independent data sources to identify, verify, and describe fatal work injuries. This assures counts are as complete and accurate as possible. For the 2008 data, over 20,000 unique source documents were reviewed as part of the data collection process.


Another BLS program, the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, presents frequency counts and incidence rates by industry and also detailed case circumstances and worker characteristics of non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses that result in days away from work. Incidence rates for 2008 by industry will be published in October 2009, and information on 2008 case circumstances and worker characteristics will be available in November 2009. For additional data, access the BLS Internet site:


For technical information about the CFOI program, please go to the BLS Handbook of Methods on the BLS Web site here: The technical information and definitions for the CFOI Program are in Chapter 9, Part III of the BLS Handbook of Methods.

Table 1. Fatal occupational injuries by event or exposure, 2007-2008

Table 2. Fatal occupational injuries by industry and selected event or exposure, 2008

Table 3. Fatal occupational injuries by occupation and selected event or exposure, 2008

Table 4. Fatal occupational injuries by selected worker characteristics and selected event or exposure, 2008

Table 5. Fatal occupational injuries by State and event or exposure, 2008

Table 6. CFOI participating State agencies and telephone numbers

Technical notes

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