Top on-the-job killers

Statistically, transportation-related accidents are the leading cause of workplace death, leading to more fatalities than falls, violence and exposure to harmful substances or environments put together, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here’s what caused workplace deaths in 2020, a year that saw the lowest annual fatality number since 2013. Data for 2021 is not yet available.

  1. Transportation accidents cause 37% of worker deaths. Roadway motor vehicle incidents are the most common cause of on-the-job transportation death (over half of all transportation fatalities), with pedestrian incidents (including workers being struck by vehicles on roadways and in work zones) as the next most fatal hazard.
  2. Falls, slips and trips lead to 17% of workplace deaths. Most of these occur when a worker falls to a lower level of a job site, and nearly a fifth of all fall deaths are from drops of less than 10 feet.
  3. Contact with objects and equipment causes 15% of workplace deaths. This includes workers being struck by equipment or objects on the job, and the largest single category is falling objects or equipment. Being struck by non-transport powered vehicles and being caught in or compressed by equipment are the next largest causes.
  4. Violence of some kind causes 15% of workplace deaths. Homicide shootings cause the most deaths, followed by suicide shooting deaths.
  5. Exposure to harmful substances or environments causes 14% of workplace deaths. The most common is death by unintentional overdose of drugs or alcohol, followed by electrical shock and exposure to extreme temperatures.
  6. Fires and explosions are responsible for 1% of workplace deaths. About a third of fires are structural fires, with vehicle and vapor/gas ignition fires as other leading causes. Most explosions involve pressure vessels, which hold gasses or liquids at high pressures.
  7. Overexertion and bodily reaction make up less than 1% of deaths.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.

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