In 2020, 4,764 U.S. workers died while on the job — an average of 13 workers dying per day and the equivalent of one worker dying every 111 minutes.
This data, recently released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, measures fatal workplace injuries and does not capture the full scope of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Transportation incidents killed 1,778 workers and accounted for 37.3% of all work-related deaths in 2020. People who work in transportation and material moving occupations, such as truck drivers, experienced the highest number of workplace deaths. Jobs in the construction industry also led to a high number of fatalities.
"We need a more targeted approach to address significant disparities in who has access to a safe job and who is treated with dignity and respect at work," says Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of U.S. unions, in a statement. "Safe jobs are a fundamental right for every worker."
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Fewer workers died on the job in 2020 than in 2019, when 5,333 Americans died while at work. In fact, the 4,764 fatal occupational injuries in 2020 represents the lowest annual number since 2013.
Shuler and the AFL-CIO credit much of this change to the coronavirus pandemic which "meant fewer people were in direct contact with preventable hazards, production priorities shifted and businesses were forced to do more prevention planning."
Because of the pandemic, people who continued to work in person were more likely to experience workplace injuries. Groups of Americans who disproportionately worked in person throughout the pandemic bore the consequences.
For instance, the overall worker fatality rate was 3.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2020, but the fatality rate for Hispanic or Latino workers and Black workers was 4.5 deaths and 3.5 deaths respectively. About 53% of Hispanic and 51% of Black workers hold jobs that require in-person contact, according to the Urban Institute.
Labor advocates like Schuler say union organizing can help workers bargain for safer conditions — and save lives.
"We are working with the Biden administration to hold employers accountable and to rebuild our workplace safety agencies to strengthen job safety protections and enforcement," she says. "Working people are standing united to ensure workplace hazards are addressed and that workers can speak up without retaliation."
Research suggests that unionization can lead to lower rates of workplace injury and death.