Despite advances in workplace safety and the best efforts of employers, on-the-job accidents happen all too frequently in the United States. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 2.8 million non-fatal workplace injuries reported in 2017, which translates to 2.8 cases per 100 private-industry FTEs. There were 5, 147 fatal on-the-job injuries reported that same year, for a rate of 3.5 deaths per 100,000 FTEs.
Workplace injuries can be devastating for families and costly for employers. According to a National Safety Council report, the cost to employers of all fatal and non-fatal workplace injuries was $151 billion in 2016. This included:
- $49.5 billion in wage and productivity loss
- $33.8 billion in medical expenses
- $48.3 billion in administrative costs
Fatal injuries also carry a much heavier cost — the loss of a loved one who can never be replaced.
The Most Deadly Jobs
Any worker can be fatally injured on the job. But knowing which types of workers are most prone to fatal injuries can help guide workplace safety initiatives and decrease preventable deaths. With that in mind, the National Underwriters Institute recently compiled a list of the five deadliest jobs in the U.S. using BLS data from 2017. In descending order, they were:
- Non-construction laborer
- Truck driver
- Janitor/ cleaner
- Nursing assistant
- General maintenance and repair worker
Consistent with prior years, transportation accidents were far-and-away the most deadly type of workplace incident, with 2,077 deaths reported in 2017. Not surprisingly, the transportation and materials moving industry accounted for a disproportionate number of these. Within that industry, 840 long-distance truckers and tractor-trailer drivers were killed. According to the BLS, that’s the highest number of trucking-industry fatalities since the bureau began collecting data in 2003.
The second most common type of fatal workplace injury in 2017 was falls, with 877 fatal injuries logged. This, too, was the highest number of fatalities recorded in the category since the Bureau began reporting data 14 years before.
By industry, the highest rate of workplace fatalities was in the fishing and logging industries, followed by:
- Aircraft pilots and flight engineers
- Refuse and recycling collectors
By contrast, fatal injuries in the private manufacturing and wholesale trade industry were at their lowest since 2003.
The Impact of Age
In prior years, BLS data showed that younger, less experienced workers were most likely to be killed on the job. But since 2016, older workers have logged the highest number of fatal occupational injuries by far. In 2017, 1,155 people age 55 to 64 years and 775 age 65 and over were killed on the job. The latter number represents 15 percent of all fatally injured workers that year.
However, this shift may be a reflection of America’s aging workforce rather than a cause for alarm. According to a report from the Senate Special Committee on Aging, older workers represent an increasing share of the nation’s labor force every year. In 2000, only 12.5 percent of American seniors age 65-plus were working. By 2016, that number was 18.6 percent.
Additionally, the number of older workers in the nation is growing at a rate that outpaces the workforce overall. According to data from the BLS, the nation’s workforce is projected to increase by 0.6 percent in the decade between 2016 and 2026. By contrast, the percentage of workers between the ages of 64 and 75 is projected to increase by 4.2 percent annually during that same period. And the number of workers over the age of 75 is expected to increase by 6.7 percent.
Whether that increase reflects choice or necessity is a question for another time.
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