A preliminary total of 4,340 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2009, down from a final count of 5,214 fatal work injuries in 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on August 19. The 2009 total represents the smallest annual preliminary total since the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program was first conducted in 1992. Based on this preliminary count, the rate of fatal work injury for U.S. workers in 2009 was 3.3 per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, down from a final rate of 3.7 in 2008. Counts and rates are likely to increase with the release of final 2009 CFOI results in April 2011. Over the last two years, increases in the published counts based on information received after the publication of preliminary results have averaged 156 fatalities per year or about 3 percent of the revised totals.          

Economic factors played a major role in the fatal work injury decrease in 2009. Total hours worked fell by 6 percent in 2009 following a 1 percent decline in 2008, and some industries that have historically accounted for a significant share of fatal work injuries, such as construction, experienced even larger declines in employment or hours worked. In addition, some source documents used by CFOI State partners to identify and verify fatal work injuries were delayed, due at least in part to fiscal constraints at some of the governmental agencies who regularly provide source documentation for the program.

Key preliminary findings of the 2009 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries:

  • Workplace homicides declined 1 percent in 2009, in contrast to an overall decline of 17 percent for all fatal work injuries. The homicide total for 2009 includes the 13 victims of the November shooting at Fort Hood. Workplace suicides were down 10 percent in 2009 from the series high of 263 in 2008.
  • Though wage and salary workers and self-employed workers experienced similar declines in total hours worked in 2009, fatal work injuries among wage and salary workers in 2009 declined by 20 percent while fatal injuries among self-employed workers were down 3 percent.
  • The wholesale trade industry was one of the few major private industry sectors reporting higher numbers of fatal work injuries in 2009.
  • Fatal work injuries in the private construction sector declined by 16 percent in 2009 following the decline of 19 percent in 2008.
  • Fatalities among non-Hispanic black or African-American workers were down 24 percent. This worker group also experienced a slightly larger decline in total hours worked than non-Hispanic white or Hispanic workers.
  • The number of fatal workplace injuries in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations rose 6 percent, one of the few major occupation groups to record an increase in fatal work injuries in 2009.
  • Transportation incidents, which accounted for nearly two-fifths of all the fatal work injuries in 2009, fell 21 percent from the 2,130 fatal work injuries reported in 2008.

Profile of 2009 fatal work injuries by type of incident
Most types of transportation fatalities decreased in 2009 relative to 2008, including highway incidents (down 27 percent); workers struck by vehicle or mobile equipment (down 19 percent); aircraft incidents (down 18 percent); and non-highway incidents such as tractor overturns (down 8 percent). Fatal occupational injuries due to water vehicle incidents were higher (82 fatalities in 2009, up from 76 in 2008). These and other transportation counts presented in this release will likely rise when updated 2009 data are released in April 2011. Key source documentation detailing specific incidents related to transportation has not yet been received and could identify 100 or more cases if recent trends hold true.

Workplace homicides fell by 1 percent in 2009, in contrast to the 17 percent decrease in fatal work injuries overall. The preliminary workplace homicide count for 2009 (521 cases) represents a decline of about half from the high of 1,080 homicides reported in 1994. Workplace suicides declined 10 percent from a series high of 263 cases in 2008 to 237 cases in 2009. However, this 2009 preliminary count of workplace suicides is the second-highest annual total reported by the fatality census.

Fatal falls declined 12 percent in 2009 (from 700 in 2008 to 617 in 2009). Overall, fatal falls are down 27 percent from the series high of 847 fatal falls reported in 2007. About half of all fatal falls occur in construction, so the decline in overall construction activity and employment since 2007 may account for the lower number of fatal falls over the past two years. Fatalities involving contact with objects or equipment were down 22 percent in 2009 after increasing in 2008, and fatal work injuries involving exposure to harmful substances or environments (such as electrocutions) were down 11 percent.

Profile of fatal work injuries by industry sector
Overall, 90 percent of the fatal work injuries involved workers in private industry. Service-providing industries in the private sector recorded 49 percent of all fatal work injuries in 2009, while 41 percent were in goods-producing industries. Ten percent of the fatal work injury cases in 2009 involved government workers. The number of fatal work injuries in both the private and public sectors declined by 17 percent in 2009.

While workers in construction incurred the most fatal injuries of any industry in the private sector in 2009, the number of fatalities in construction declined 16 percent in 2009 after a decline of 19 percent in 2008. With this decrease, private construction fatalities are down by more than a third since reaching a series high in 2006. Economic conditions may explain much of this decline with total hours worked having declined 17 percent in construction in 2009, after a decline of 10 percent the year before. Fatal injuries involving workers in the construction of buildings were down 27 percent from 2008, with most of the decrease occurring in non-residential building construction (down 44 percent to 55 cases). Heavy and civil engineering construction was down 12 percent, and the subsector with the largest number of fatal work injuries, specialty trade contractors, had 16 percent fewer fatalities in 2009 than in 2008.

Fatal injuries were down by 18 percent among private sector workers in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industry sector in 2009. Fatal injuries to workers in forestry and logging led the decrease, declining 50 percent (from 102 in 2008 to 51 in 2009). Unlike most industries in the sector, fatal injuries among fishing, hunting and trapping workers were higher. Fatal work injuries also declined in mining (down 43 percent) and in manufacturing (down 26 percent).

Among service-providing industries, fatal work injuries in the transportation and warehousing sector accounted for 579 fatalities, a 27 percent decrease. Truck transportation, the largest subsector within transportation and warehousing, had a 32 percent decrease in fatalities in 2009. Among other transportation subsectors, workers in air, rail, and water transportation all incurred fewer fatal work injuries in 2009.

Wholesale trade was one of the few major private industry sectors to record a higher number of fatal injuries in 2009 than in 2008. Fatal injuries were up 3 percent in wholesale trade in 2009, but were down slightly in retail trade. Fatal work injuries in the utilities and information industries were down sharply, but declines in most of the other service industries were more moderate, including financial activities (down 5 percent), professional and business services (down 2 percent), educational and health services (down 4 percent), and leisure and hospitality (down 9 percent).

Fatal injuries among government workers were down 17 percent. While fatalities incurred by state and local government workers decreased in 2009, fatalities among federal government workers were higher (up 7 percent to 116 fatal work injuries in 2009), largely due to an increase in the national security subsector (resident military).

Profile of fatal work injuries by occupation
Fatal work injuries involving workers in transportation and material moving occupations accounted for more than one-fifth of all occupational fatalities in 2009, though fatalities in this occupational group declined by 28 percent. Driver/sales workers and truck drivers, the subgroup with the highest number of fatal work injuries within the transportation and material moving group, led the decline with 32 percent fewer fatal work injuries in 2009 than in 2008.

Fatal work injuries in construction and extraction occupations decreased by 16 percent in 2009 after declining 17 percent the previous year. Construction trades worker fatalities were down 16 percent (from 726 in 2008 to 607 in 2009), though fatal work injuries were higher in 2009 for electricians, plumbers and carpenters, among others. Fatal work injuries involving construction laborers, the worker subgroup accounting for the highest number of fatalities in this occupational group, declined by 7 percent in 2009 to 224 fatal work injuries.

Fatal work injuries among protective service occupations fell by 21 percent in 2009 and are down 30 percent from the high for the series reported in 2007. Fewer fatalities among law enforcement workers, fire fighting and prevention workers, and security guards led the decline in this occupational group in 2009.

The building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupational group was among the few occupation groups with a higher number of fatal injuries in 2009 (up 6 percent), led by an increase in fatal work injuries among grounds maintenance personnel (up 12 percent to 147 fatalities).

Fatal work injuries involving resident military personnel were also higher, up 21 percent in 2009 to 69 fatalities.

Profile of fatal work injuries by demographic characteristics
The number of fatal work injuries fell 16 percent among non-Hispanic white workers in 2009 and declined 17 percent among Hispanic or Latino workers. The largest decline was among non-Hispanic black or African-American workers who recorded a 24 percent decline in fatalities in 2009. Since 2007, fatal work injuries among black workers have declined by a third. Total hours worked were down 8 percent in 2009 for black workers, as opposed to 7 percent for Hispanic or Latino workers and 6 percent for non-Hispanic white workers.

The decline in fatal work injuries among Hispanic or Latino workers in 2009 primarily involved foreign-born Hispanic or Latino workers. Fatalities among foreign-born Hispanic or Latino workers were lower by 22 percent, but among native-born Hispanics, the decline was 9 percent. While the 680 fatal work injuries incurred by workers who were born outside of the United States accounted for 16 percent of all fatal work injuries in the U.S. in 2009, that total also represented a decline of 19 percent from 2008. Of the foreign-born workers who were fatally-injured in the U.S. in 2009, the largest share (40 percent) was Mexican-born.

Total hours worked for both self-employed and wage and salary workers declined by 6 percent in 2009. However, self-employed workers had a 3 percent decline in fatalities, while fatalities among wage and salary workers fell by 20 percent. The fatality rate for self-employed workers was higher in 2009 (12.0 fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers versus 11.6 in 2008) while the fatality rate for wage and salary workers was lower.

Workplace fatalities among both male and female workers decreased in 2009. The number of fatalities declined for all age categories in 2009 except for workers under the age of 16, whose total rose slightly.

Profile of fatal work injuries by state
Thirty-seven states reported lower numbers of fatal work injuries in 2009 than in 2008, while 13 states and the District of Columbia reported higher numbers.

For more detailed state results, contact the individual state agency responsible for the collection of CFOI data in that state.

Background of the program
The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), part of the BLS Occupational Safety and Health Statistics (OSHS) program, compiles a count of all fatal work injuries occurring in the U.S. during the calendar year. The CFOI program uses diverse state, federal and independent data sources to identify, verify, and describe fatal work injuries. This assures counts are as complete and accurate as possible. For the 2009 data, over 17,000 unique source documents were reviewed as part of the data collection process.

Another OSHS program, the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII), presents frequency counts and incidence rates by industry and also by detailed case circumstances and worker characteristics of non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses that result in days away from work. Incidence rates for 2009 by industry will be published in October 2010, and information on 2009 case circumstances and worker characteristics will be available in November 2010. For additional data, access the BLS Internet site: http://www.bls.gov/iif/.

Beginning with 2009 data, the CFOI program began classifying industry using the 2007 version of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS 2007). Industry data from 2003 to 2008 were classified using the NAICS 2002. NAICS 2007 includes revisions across several sectors. The most significant revisions are in the information sector, particularly within telecommunications. For more information, go to http://www.bls.gov/bls/naics.htm.