Workplace deaths fell sharply in 2020, federal data released today show, though an asterisk would seem to be in order because of the pandemic and the related economic slowdown.
And there were a couple of dispiriting outliers: Deaths from “exposure to harmful substances or environments” – drugs, chemicals, heat – rose to their highest level since 2011. And Hispanic workers account for an increasing share of fatalities.
The data are included in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, released each December for the previous calendar year. Last year, the BLS reported, 4,764 workers died on the job – the lowest number since 2013 and 569 fewer than in 2019. This does not include workers who died of COVID-19, though the BLS says it could include workers whose fatal injuries were “complicated by an illness.”
Other notable findings in the census:
>In 2020, 388 workers died of “unintentional overdose from nonmedical use of drugs,” a topic Public Health Watch addressed in this story in October.
>Sixty-two workers died from “exposure to temperature extremes,” up from 53 in 2019. This could mean extreme heat or extreme cold; Public Health Watch was part of a multi-newsroom collaboration on the former.
>Fatalities increased among law enforcement workers (from 97 in 2019 to 115 in 2020) and health-care support workers (from 38 to 44).
>Workers in transportation, warehousing, construction and mining collectively accounted for almost half of all deaths in 2020.
More granular BLS data are available here.