The Little Noticed Disaster: Workplace Accidents, Injuries and Fatalities

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Some catastrophic contingency events happen quickly and with corresponding notoriety and “attention-grabbing” drama. Other disasters unfold slowly and all too often evade both attention and scurrility. Much like a catastrophic devastating disease that creeps up without significant symptoms, some disasters occur slowly, yet produce serious consequences in terms of costs, health and lives that can rival sudden and dramatic events. One of these “hidden disaster” situations lurks in the human performance and human safety implications of workplace accidents, injuries and fatalities.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is preparing the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2014 for publication in Spring 2016. Based on their preliminary totals, 2014 fatal work injuries increased by 2 percent over the final 2013 numbers. This appears to be largely due to an increase in the overall workforce numbers as the preliminary rate of fatal work injury for U.S. workers in 2014 was 3.3 per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers; which is statistically unchanged from 2013. Thus, in the U.S. there were about 5,000 fatal work injuries during 2014.


Key preliminary findings of the 2014 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries include:

  • “The number of fatal work injuries in private goods-producing industries in 2014 was 9 percent higher than the revised 2013 count, but slightly lower in private service-providing industries. Fatal injuries were higher in mining (up 17 percent), agriculture (up 14 percent), manufacturing (up 9 percent) and construction (up 6 percent). Fatal work injuries for government workers were lower (down 12 percent).
  • Falls, slips and trips increased 10 percent to 793 in 2014 from 724 in 2013. This was driven largely by an increase in falls to a lower level to 647 in 2014 from 595 in 2013.
  • Fatal work injuries involving workers 55 years of age and over rose 9 percent to 1,621 in 2014 up from 1,490 in 2013. The preliminary 2014 count for workers 55 and over is the highest total ever reported by CFOI.
  • After a sharp decline in 2013, fatal work injuries among self-employed workers increased 10 percent in 2014 from 950 in 2013 to 1,047 in 2014.
  • Women incurred 13 percent more fatal work injuries in 2014 than in 2013. Even with this increase, women accounted for only 8 percent of all fatal occupational injuries in 2014.
  • Fatal work injuries among Hispanic or Latino workers were lower in 2014, while fatal injuries among non-Hispanic white, black or African-American and Asian workers were all higher.
  • In 2014, 797 decedents were identified as contracted workers, 6 percent higher than the 749 fatally-injured contracted workers reported in 2013. Workers who were contracted at the time of their fatal injury accounted for 17 percent of all fatal work injury cases in 2014.
  • The number of fatal work injuries among police officers and police supervisors was higher in 2014, rising from 88 in 2013 to 103 in 2014, an increase of 17 percent.”

In the complimentary analysis Employer-Reported Workplace Injury and Illness Summary, the preliminary analysis finds:

“The nearly 3.0 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2014 occurred at a rate of 3.2 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers, according to estimates from the Survey of Occupational Injuriwhitepaper image3es and Illnesses (SOII) conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (See tables 1 and 2.) The rate reported for 2014 continues a pattern of declines that, with the exception of 2012, occurred annually for the last 12 years. Private industry employers reported nearly 54,000 fewer nonfatal injury and illness cases in 2014 compared to a year earlier. Because of this decline combined with an increase in reported hours worked, the total recordable cases (TRC) incidence rate fell 0.1 cases per 100 full-time workers. The fall in the TRC rate was driven by a decline in the rate of other recordable cases, as rates for both cases involving days away from work (DAFW) and for cases of job transfer or restriction only (DJTR) were unchanged in 2014.

Among all private industry sectors, the rate of reported injuries and illnesses declined in 2014 only among the retail trade, health care and social assistance, and accommodation and food services sectors. Manufacturing continued a 17-year trend as the only private industry sector in which the rate of DJTR cases exceeded the rate of DAFW cases. The rates for these two case types were unchanged from a year earlier at 1.2 cases and 1.0 case per 100 full-time workers, respectively.”

More Americans Die from Workplace Injuries and Accidents than from Terror Attacks

While terrorism is a serious problem which must be addressed with all serious diligence and diligence, it may be helpful to put the “silent” disasters (not as well covered by the news media) on the discussion agenda as a point of comparison.

According to a report in the Huffington Post (Work-Related Deaths Kill 150 Americans Per Day: Study) an AFL-CIO study found:

“More than 100 people in the United States die every day as a result of their work, according to a new report from the AFL-CIO.The union found that about 4,693 workers were killed on the job in 2011, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 50,000 workers per year die from work-related diseases. Combine those numbers and you get about 150 work-related deaths per day, the AFL-CIO report found. To put that number in comparative terms: Americans are 271 times more likely to die from a workplace accident than from a terrorist attack, according to an op-ed last month from Mike Elk, a labor reporter for In These Times.….And in the U.S., workplaces may be even more dangerous than the government indicates. About 3.8 million Americans suffer from work-related injuries and diseases each year, according to government reports, but experts estimate that number may be closer to 11 million due to underreporting, according to the AFL-CIO. In North Carolina, for example, the state’s department of labor releases an annual report that includes only the number of workplace fatalities the state has the authority to investigate. But the number of workplace deaths is much higher than the state report indicates, according to a recent study from the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health.”

In terms of national issues, slightly more employees die each year from workplace accidents and injuries than there are women killed in incidents of domestic violence (4000). Yet, for many the harms a11.chart re often overlooked and little concerted effort is brought to address this on-going disaster.

In fact, many more Americans die from workplace injuries and accidents each year than people who die from shark attacks (average 1); lightning strikes (average 38); tornadoes (average 60); hurricanes (average 23); snake bites (average 12); choking on food (average 3000) or food poisoning (average 3000); and while taking selfies (average 12) combined. Yet, many of these dangerous events receive my attention in our planning and mitigation process than does workplace safety continuity.”

The Business Cost of the Workplace Accident Disaster

In addition to the health and human lives devastated by workplace injury and accident disasters, the impact of occupational injuries and illnesses also hits the business “bottom-line” and company profitability.

David Quezada, in an article in the San Antonio Business Journal noted that: “Businesses can be impacted in multiple ways whenever an employee gets hurt or becomes seriously ill at work. The BLS found that nearly half of the private industry injury and illness cases reported last year involved time lost, a job transfer, or restricted work duties for the injured employee. Additionally, business owners may face increases in their workers’ compensation insurance premiums when employees file claims and take medical leaves of absence.”

The U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) manages a “safety pays” program that demonstrates the “business case” for safety continuity planning and mitigation. There is an on-line “$afety Pays” estimator (Estimated Costs of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses and Estimated Impact on a Company’s Profitability Worksheet) to help quantify the financial value of such steps. According to the OSHA site, businesses can use the “$afety Pays” to assess the impact of occupational injuries and illnesses on their profitability. This program uses a company’s profit margin, the average costs of an injury or illness and an indirect cost multiplier to project the amount of sales a company would need to generate to cover those costs. The “$afety Pays” program is intended as a tool to raise awareness of how occupational injuries and illnesses can impact a company’s profitability.

Risk Assessment, Mitigation and Preparedness Planning

Businesses can benefit from making worker safety a business continuity and human performance issue. The human performance factors related to safety and accident-reduced working can be identified and targeted in employee selection, training and assessment efforts. This is a high return potential area of focus for reducing or mitigating this slow-moving workplace disaster. Education and employee training communication plans can play a foundational role in mitigating the risks from workplace accidents and injuries.

Every workplace is unique so you need to assess the issues which are unique to your situation. Depending on your context, you may need to focus on specific aspects. The aspects might include work station or task ergonomics, staff sufficiency to avoid fatigue, multi-tasking, height safety, personal safety, ventilation, work site safety, including other dimensions.

Some industry sectors have unique and idiosyncratic risks and trends. BLS offers an on-line tool (Work Injury and Illness Calculator) to help identify the risks for specific industries, locations or even individual companies or businesses. This is an Incidence Rate Calculator and Comparison Tool. To see what your risks are for this slow moving disaster click here (Injuries, Illnesses and Fatalities calculator)

While we don’t need to pay “less” attention to acts of terrorism and protecting people, perhaps we simply need to pay more attention to the slow motion “disaster” by taking steps to better plan, prepare and mitigate the incidence of workplace accidents, injuries and fatalities.

Suggested Links for Further Reading:

Images:; OHSA; respectively

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