Press Release

Significant Action Needed After Latest Data Show Essential Workers Disproportionately Die on the Job

Data published today by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that workers face preventable hazardous working conditions and disparities continue to grow. In 2020, 4,764 workers died on the job and the job fatality rate was 3.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers, the first decrease in years. That is an average of 13 workers dying each and every day. 

The decline in fatalities does not capture the staggering number of workers who so far have lost their lives from COVID-19—tens of thousands and growing—and does not capture the nearly 120,000 workers who die each year in the U.S. from preventable occupational illnesses, largely work-related cancers.

“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. Safe jobs are a fundamental right for every worker,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. “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. Working people are standing united to ensure workplace hazards are addressed and that workers can speak up without retaliation.”

Overall, fewer people worked in person in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This meant fewer people were in direct contact with preventable hazards, production priorities shifted and businesses were forced to do more prevention planning. The labor movement knows that when employers plan with workers, there are fewer job deaths and injuries.

Workers deemed essential in 2020 had no choice but to show up in person, risking their lives, and continued to disproportionately bear the brunt of workplace fatalities. The racial disparities are stark: The job fatality rates for Hispanic or Latino workers and Black workers continue to be higher than the overall rate at 4.5 and 3.5 per 100,000 workers, respectively, and Latino workers now account for a larger percentage of all worker fatalities than in 2019.  

In 2020, falls, workplace violence and transportation incidents continued to be major causes of job deaths. Women workers died in 16% of workplace homicides even though they represent 8% of all worker fatalities. The number of workplace deaths caused by unintentional drug overdoses continued to surge to 388, up from 313 in 2019 and maintaining its upward trend since 2012. Job deaths in construction (1,008) continued to be one of the highest figures, as it has been since 2007. Older workers experienced a job fatality rate more than 2.5 times the national average.

Contact: Liz Vlock (202) 637-5018