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Increase in Job Fatalities Highlights Need for Worker Protections

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Too many of America’s workers are being killed on the job and face dangerous working conditions. The latest data from the U.S.  Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries shows that workers of color are especially high risk. 

In 2019, 5,333 workers died on the job, the largest number since 2007. That is an average of 15 workers dying each and every day. This does not include the enormous number of lives lost this year from COVID-19, which has been largely uncontrolled in workplaces, or occupational diseases like black lung and silicosis, which are on the rise. The job fatality rate was 3.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers, remaining static for the past three years. 

Today’s sobering report comes at a time when the number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors is at its lowest level since the agency was formed, the Mine Safety and Health Administration inspection force is shrinking and safety agency resources are scarce. 

“Instead of increasing life-saving measures aimed at protecting working people at our workplaces, the Trump administration consistently rolled back existing safety and health rules and has failed to move forward on any new safety and health protections,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “We look forward to working with the new administration to strengthen job safety protections and enforcement, rebuild workplace safety agencies, and prevent worker deaths, injuries and disease.”

Most of these job deaths were preventable, caused by well-recognized hazards that need immediate attention. In 2019, workplace violence deaths (841) increased and remains one of the top three causes of job deaths, and deaths from falls (880) increased by 11%. The number of deaths caused by unintentional overdoses of drugs or alcohol at work continued to surge to 313. This represents a staggering 380% increase since 2012, when 65 unintentional overdose deaths were reported. Job deaths increased in construction (1,061), the highest number since 2007.

Deaths among older workers, those 65 and older, were at an all-time high with 793. These workers experienced a job fatality rate more than 2.5 times the national average. Deaths among Latino workers (1,088) increased for the third year in a row to its highest number ever. Deaths among Black workers (634) increased and remained at a higher overall rate for the second year in a row.