Work Injuries and Illnesses by Race or Ethnic Origin
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the number of fatal occupational injuries and the number of nonfatal injuries and illnesses by race or ethnic origin. Race or ethnic origin categories used by BLS follow an Office of Management and Budget directive last revised in 1997 (Statistical Policy Directive No. 15, Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting):
- Black or African-American
- American Indian or Alaska Native
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
- Hispanic or Latino
Persons identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race. The race categories shown exclude data for Hispanics or Latinos.
In 2021, the majority of workers killed were white (60%), followed by Hispanic or Latino workers (22%), Black or African-American workers (13%), and Asian workers (3%). All other groups accounted for 1% or less of total deaths. Reflecting the rebound in the number of hours worked in 2021, all groups experienced more occupational deaths in 2021 compared to 2020:
- White (205 more deaths, +7%)
- Black or African-American (112 more deaths, +21%)
- Hispanic or Latino (58 more deaths, +5%)
- Asian (28 more deaths, +19%)
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (10 more deaths, +125%)
- American Indian or Alaska Native (9 more deaths, +28%)
- Data Table
The increased hours worked in 2021 does not fully account for the increase in occupational deaths. Overall, the occupational death rate increased 5.9% in 2021, from 3.4 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2020 to 3.6 in 2021. The increase in death rates indicates the risk of occupational death has increased even after accounting for the improvement in hours worked. Death rates increased for all groups with the exception of Hispanic or Latino workers who maintained the highest death rate of any group at 4.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. Death rates for other groups increased from 3% to 14% in 2021:
- Black or African-American workers (+14%)
- Asian workers (+6%)
- White workers (+3%)
- Data Table
Although the fatal data by race or ethnic origin are very valuable, two current data gaps limit our understanding of the fatality risks faced by different worker groups. First, fatality rates by race or ethnic origin are not available for specific industries or occupations. Without this industry and occupational specific data, the ability to target interventions for workers at the highest risk of death is severely limited.
The second data limitation is that the BLS fatal surveillance program (Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries) excludes the tracking of fatal occupational illnesses. This limitation is not specific to race or ethnic origin but prevents the tracking of long-term health outcomes for worker groups by industry, occupation, or demographic variables like race or ethnic origin.
Detailed nonfatal data for 2021 are not currently available.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is transitioning from an annual to a biennial (every two years) publication schedule. The final publication of a single year of cases involving days away from work estimates is for reference year 2020. In the fall of 2023, BLS will publish detailed data covering 2021 and 2022 for both Days Away from Work (DAFW) and for Days of Job Transfer or Restriction (DJTR) cases.
Unfortunately, nonfatal occupational data by race or ethnic origin are also limited and are of low statistical quality. The first major issue with current nonfatal data is that employers fail to report to the BLS race or ethnic origin for 45% of cases involving days away from work. Because so many of the cases lack race or ethnic origin information, the true distribution of nonfatal cases by race or ethnic origin is unknown. Although current estimates show that white workers account for 32% of nonfatal cases involving days away from work, followed by Hispanic or Latino workers (13%), Black or African-American workers (9%), and Asian workers (2%), it is not known how the distribution would shift if all cases included race or ethnic origin information. With this caveat in mind, current trends show the number of nonfatal cases involving days away from work increased 71% among Asian workers from 2019 to 2020, increased 40% among Black or African-American workers, increased 27% among Hispanic or Latino workers, and increased 22% among White workers.
- Data Table
The second major issue regarding current nonfatal data is that injury rates by race or ethnic origin are unreported by BLS. Without nonfatal case rate information, there is no way to assess the injury and illness risk faced by workers of different race or ethnic origin groups. This lack of information is in contrast to other demographic data made available by BLS. Injury and illness rates are reported for both worker sex and age.
To further explore the nonfatal data currently available by race or ethnic origin, please see the data details page.
Source: National Safety Council (NSC) analysis of BLS data.