What Are the Common Causes of Workplace Fatalities?

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  • Written By: Susan Abe
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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Workplace fatalities are said to be relatively rare for the average American worker. Just about four workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers were reported to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2006. Most people are aware that there are some occupations considered more dangerous than others, such as logging or commercial fishing, but few can name the actual most common causes of death, independent of the workers' careers. Fatalities vary by occupation, gender, ethnicity and age. Regardless of these variables, the overwhelming cause of work-related death is that of on-the-job highway accidents.

On-the-job car or vehicle crashes account for around 25 percent of workplace fatalities in any given year. This classification specifically does not include deaths from workers commuting to and from work or fatalities of highway workers on or near a roadway. Fatigue and not wearing a safety belt are said to contribute to this large proportion. While women comprise only about 8 percent of workplace fatalities, they register higher numbers of on-the-job highway deaths than do men.

Transportation and material moving accounted for 17 percent of workplace deaths. These deaths are those caused by some kinds of forklift accidents, tractor accidents, railroad accidents, rail yard accidents and even parking lot fatalities. In combination with highway fatalities, this means that 42 percent — or almost half — of all workplace fatalities involve moving ourselves and materials, and machines to help us do so.


The third highest number of workplace fatalities, 16 percent, involves equipment or objects contact. Nine percent of these types of death occur when an object, often a falling one, strikes an employee. The decline in this type of workplace fatality is thought to be related to more stringent enforcement of hardhat compliance and the use of covered walkways during construction projects.

Falls and violence both compete for the fourth highest number of workplace fatalities, each registering at about 15 percent of the total. For instances of violence, outright homicide accounts for an astounding 11 percent with the remaining four percent labeled as assault, apparently with fatal complications. This type of fatality is another one in which women victims far outnumber men, and at more than twice the rate of men. Of total job-related deaths, 15 percent involve falls, with falls to a lower level accounting for 13 percent of the total. These deaths are primarily suffered by men and are prevalent in the construction industry.

The remaining somewhat common causes each account for less than one in ten fatalities. Exposure to dangerous substances, materials or gases accounts for 9 percent of workplace fatalities. Finally, only 3 percent of workplace deaths come about as a result of fires and explosions.


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