This article is part of a larger series on Workers' Compensation Insurance.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes an annual compilation of workplace injury statistics that policymakers use to improve working conditions and address safety concerns across the country. While not every injury recorded by the BLS is covered by workers’ comp, business owners can draw on the information to identify and mitigate risks for their employees, and that can ultimately help them reduce their workers’ compensation insurance costs. These 10 stats from the most recent BLS data are a good place to start.
Please note: The BLS workplace injury statistics are from 2019. Data from 2020 will be compiled this year, so the information does not reflect any impact from COVID-19.
1. Employees Suffered 2.8 Million Workplace Injuries in 2019
The most recent data from the BLS shows the incidence rate of total recordable cases (TRC) of workplace injuries for private industry employees—those not employed by state or local governments—has remained the same for the past three years: 2.8 per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers. Despite this plateau, the incidence rate has been on a steady downward trend since at least 2003, when the US had an incidence rate of 5.0 cases per FTE.
2. Incidence Rates Have Fallen 75% Since 1972
The downward trend in incidence rates looks even better if you go back to 1972, the first year the BLS published statistics from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. Back then, the workplace injury incidence rate was 10.9 cases per 100 full-time workers, or three times greater than it is now.
3. Number of Workplace Fatalities Up Another 2% in 2019
While US employers seem to be holding their own when it comes to work injuries, the same cannot be said for occupational fatalities. The US recorded 5,333 workplace fatalities in 2019. That represents a 2% increase over 2018 data—which was a 2% increase over the 2017 data. Sadly, the number of fatal work injuries has been inching upward since 2010.
4. Workplace Injuries Again Caused a Median 8 Days Away From Work
The median days away from work were the same in 2019 as in 2018: eight days across all industries. That may not seem like a lot, but according to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, the most disabling workplace injuries cost business owners $59.59 billion per year.
Liberty Mutual’s report only considers direct costs like workers’ comp payments and legal services. Indirect costs, such as accident investigations and replacement employee training, push the total cost higher. For perspective, the National Safety Council places the total economic impact of workplace injuries at $171 billion in 2019.
5. Transportation Incidents Account for 40% of All Work Fatalities
Transportation incidents caused the most workplace fatalities by far, accounting for nearly 40% of all work-related deaths in 2019. Other incidents fall in line as follows:
The total number of workplace fatalities from transportation incidents, 2,122, is a 2% increase from 2018 and is the most cases since 2011. Transportation has been the number one source of workplace fatalities since at least 2014, but it’s not the only reason fatalities are going up. The BLS found increases:
- Fall, slips, and trips are up 11%
- Exposure to harmful substances and environments are up 3.4%
- Unintentional overdoses due to nonmedical use of drugs or alcohol are up 2.6%
6. Construction Saw 1,061 Fatalities in 2019
Do construction’s 1,061 work-related fatalities—up slightly more than 5% from 2018—make it the riskiest industry? It all depends on how you look at it. For instance, you might say the riskiest industry for 2019 is the one with the:
- Highest fatality rate: Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting, with 23.1 deaths per 100,000 FTE workers
- Highest nonfatal illness and injury rate: Transportation and warehousing, with 201.6 nonfatal injuries and illnesses per 10,000 workers
- Most nonfatal injuries and illnesses: Government, with 220,070 nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses
Looking at fatality and incidence rates probably gives you a better idea of how risky a given industry is. Compare construction to agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting as an example. Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting saw 573 fatalities in 2019, so you might assume it’s safer than construction. But that doesn’t take into consideration the size of the industry. The incidence rate, however, does, and construction’s 9.5 deaths per 100,000 employees is significantly lower than the 23.1 seen in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting.
7. California Suffered 3,799 Workplace Injuries in 2019
It’s not surprising that California tops the list for workplace injuries considering it’s also the nation’s most populous state. All of the states in the top five for injuries are also in the top 10 for population, namely:
- California: 3,799
- Texas: 1,876
- New York: 1,405
- Pennsylvania: 1,370
- Illinois: 1,048
The same goes for workplace fatalities:
- Texas: 608
- California: 451
- Florida: 306
- New York: 273
- Georgia: 207
Moreover, the most recent census data shows that California has the most employees in 16 of the 18 industries recognized by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).
But what if we look at the incidence and fatality rates for the number of accidents per 100 FTE workers? That paints a distinctly different picture:
- Highest Fatality Rates
- Alaska: 14.1
- Wyoming: 12
- North Dakota: 9.7
- Montana: 7.8
- Virginia: 6.4
- Highest Incidence Rates
- Maine: 4.9
- Vermont: 4.5
- Washington: 4.0
- Montana: 3.9
- Oregon: 3.9
California is the only state from the first set that shows up again—and that’s only at the bottom of one. Does this mean California is generally a riskier place to work? Probably not. A quick review of the Economic Census Geographic Area Statistics shows the state’s top industries by employment are healthcare and social assistance, accommodation and food services, and retail. These three are also in the top four in workplace injuries resulting in days away from work among service-providing industries.
8. Overexertion and Bodily Reaction Caused 31% of All 2019 Workplace Injuries
Transportation incidents may cause the most workplace fatalities overall, but overexertion and bodily reaction were the number one causes of injuries resulting in days away from work across all industries in 2019, accounting for 275,590 cases.
But just because overexertion and repetitive motions cause the most nonfatal workplace injuries doesn’t mean these are the biggest risks in your industry. Contact with objects or equipment takes the top spot in four industry sectors, including:
- Manufacturing: 45,960 cases
- Construction: 26,120 cases
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting: 5,790 cases
- Mining: 1,890 cases
Moreover, falls, slips, and trips made caused the most employees to miss work in:
- Leisure and hospitality: 31,550 cases
- Professional and business services: 19,540 cases
- Financial activities: 9,570 cases
Both falls and contact with objects are represented on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s top ten list of most frequent standard violations in 2019.
9. Small Businesses Averaged 1.2 Work Injuries per 100 Full-time Employees
Private industry small businesses in 2019 appear to have had better safety records than their big company counterparts. Of course, that all depends on how you define “small businesses.” Businesses in private industry with 10 or fewer employees had an incidence rate of 1.2 workplace injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time employees in 2019. That’s fewer than the 2.6 work injuries all private industries businesses averaged over the year. The same goes for businesses with 11 to 49 employees that had an incidence rate of 2.4.
However, things get more interesting when you look at larger small businesses. The Small Business Administration (SBA) developed definitions based on either revenue or number of employees so, depending on your industry, your business could be considered small with anywhere from one to 1,500 workers. The BLS shows businesses with:
- 50 to 249 employees had an incident rate of 3.3
- 250 to 999 had an incidence rate of 2.9
- 1,000 or more employees had an incidence rate of 2.7 nonfatal injuries
Perhaps the fact that bigger companies had more incidents isn’t surprising, but the higher rate for that middle range of 50 to 249 employees kind of is. Moreover, it holds true across several broad industries, such as:
- Incidence rate overall: 3.0
- Incidence rate, 50 to 249 employees: 3.8
- Incidence rate overall: 2.7
- Average incidence rate, 50 to 249 employees: 3.1
- Retail Trade
- Incidence rate overall: 3.3
- Incidence rate, 50 to 249 employees: 4.0
- Wholesale Trade
- Incidence rate overall: 2.6
- Incidence rate, 50 to 249 employees: 3.1
So, why do businesses with 50 to 249 employees have higher workplace injury rates? Our best guess is they have the increased risk that comes with more employee interactions, inventory, and equipment but lack the resources for safety programs.
10. Wage & Salary Workers Fatality Cases Jumped 13%
Since 2010, the percentage of fatal workplace injuries for both wage earners and self-employed workers stayed pretty steady, with the former hovering between 66% and 70% of fatalities. That changed in 2019 when the percentage spiked to nearly 80% for wage and salary employees.
While the percentage increase in fatalities for wage earners is surprising, it pales in comparison to the fatal injury rate per 100,000 self-employed individuals over most of the same period. The BLS has not published fatality rates for 2018 or 2019, but the most recent data shows a low rate of 11.8 in 2013 and a high of 13.6 in 2014.
On-the-job injuries can take a toll on an organization, and not just financially. The loss of a worker—even temporarily—creates a knowledge gap that strains your operations while also causing emotional stress for your other employees. Smart small business owners work hard to minimize the risks inherent in their industries to reduce the chance of workplace injuries.