Most Hazadous Occupations

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Since the first workers compensation law was enacted about a century ago, the American workplace has become considerably safer. Loud, dirty factories have been replaced by clean office complexes and industrial parks. Most states require employers to purchase a workers compensation policy. If any workers are injured on the job the policy pays them the benefits mandated by state law.

While workplaces have improved over the last 100 years, serious accidents still occur.

In December of 2016 the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issued a report called the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2015. The report shows that there were 4836 fatal work injuries in 2015.

The BLS report provides some insight into both the causes of fatal injuries and the distribution of such injuries across major industries. Many injuries had similar causes. Also, some industries experienced significantly more workplace deaths than others.

Good News, Bad News

The BLS report provides both good and bad news. On the positive side, the overall rate of fatal injuries was 3.38. This was lower than the rate in 2014, which was 3.43. Older workers (age 65 and over) sustained 650 fatal injuries in 2015, compared to 684 in 2014.

There is also good news with respect to workplace suicides, which decreased 18% from the previous year. In addition, fatal injuries to workers employed in oil and gas extraction fell by 38% compared to 2014.

The report has some bad news as well. There were 903 fatal injuries involving Latino workers in 2015, the most since 2009. Roadway fatalities increased 9% over the previous year. Also, 937 workers employed in private construction died on the job in 2015. This is the highest number in any year since 2008.

The total number of workplace fatalities in 2015 (4836) was also the highest in any year since 2008.

Causes of Worker Deaths

The BLS classifies worker deaths based on the six categories listed below. The chart shows the total number of fatalities and the percentage of the total (4836) for each category. For example, 2054 transportation incidents constitute about 42% of 4836. (The percentages don't add up to 100 because of rounding.)

Cause of FatalitiesNumber of  Fatalities% of Total
Transportation Incidents205442%
Contact with Objects or Equipment72215%
Slips, Trips, Falls80016%
Exposure to Harmful Substance4249%
Fires, Explosions1212%


Transportation Incidents include roadway and non-roadway accidents that involve motorized land vehicles (autos and mobile machinery). According to the BLS, roadway incidents accounted for 26% of all fatal accidents. Clearly, autos and mobile equipment are a major workplace hazard. They were involved in 42% of fatal accidents in 2015. Of the 2054 fatalities that resulted from transportation incidents, approximately 62% occurred on a roadway.

The Violence category includes workplace homicide, suicide and injury caused by animals. Workplace homicides increased 2% from 2014.

A substantial portion of the fatalities (16%) that occurred in 2015 resulted from slips and falls. The bulk of the incidents (81%) involved a fall from higher level to a lower level.

Most Hazardous Industries

The BLS considers fatalities in terms of both absolute numbers and fatality rates (number of fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers). Some industries employ many more workers than others. Thus, the fatality rate can be more meaningful than the absolute number of deaths.

Here are the ten most hazardous industries (based on fatality rate) in descending order. The chart shows both the number of fatalities and the fatality rate for each industry group.

Industry# FatalitiesFatality Rate
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, Hunting57022.8
Transportation, Warehousing76513.8
Mining, Quarrying, Gas & Oil Extraction12011.4
Wholesale Trade1754.7
Professional & Business Services4773.0
Other Services2023.0


Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, Hunting had a higher fatality rate than any other industry group. The second most hazardous industry group was Transportation and Warehousing. Two other industries with high fatality rates were Mining, Quarrying etc. and Construction. The remaining industries on the list had much lower death rates than the top four.