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):

  • White
  • Black or African-American
  • Asian
  • American Indian or Alaskan 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.

Fatal Trends

In 2020, the majority of workers killed were white (61%), followed by Hispanic or Latino workers (23%), Black or African-American workers (11%), and Asian workers (3%). All other groups accounted for 1% or less of total deaths. Reflecting the fewer number of hours worked in 2020 because of COVID-19 related disruptions, all groups experienced fewer occupational deaths in 2020 compared to 2019. Deaths among Hispanic or Latino workers decreased the least (-1.5%). Deaths among Asian workers decreased the most among the largest groups (-17.1%), followed by Black or African-American workers (-14.7%) and white workers (-12.1%).

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  • Data Table

Overall, the occupational death rate decreased 2.9% in 2020, from 3.5 per 100,000 workers in 2019 to 3.4 in 2020. Death rates also decreased for white workers (-5.7%), Asian workers (-5.3%), and Black or African-American workers (-2.8%). In contrast, the death rate among Hispanic or Latino workers increased 7.1% in 2020, from 4.2 per 100,000 workers in 2019 to 4.5 in 2020. Hispanic or Latino workers also have the highest fatality rate (4.5 per 100,000 workers), followed by Black or African-American workers (3.5), white workers (3.3), and Asian workers (1.8).

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Although the fatal data by race or ethnic origin is 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.

Nonfatal Trends

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.

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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.

See data details