clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How Americans die on the job, in 5 charts

This is probably where we should reference that Deadliest Catch show.
This is probably where we should reference that Deadliest Catch show.
Getty Images

Sitting down at work may kill, but chopping down trees and hauling in nets full of crabs are much more immediately dangerous. The Labor Department released its preliminary data on 2013 fatal occupational injuries this week. Fishing, logging, flying, and farming all are among the deadliest jobs out there, but the data also contain deeper insights into how hard we work and even violence against women. Below is a look at how we die on the jobs, in five charts.

1) Being a lumberjack is dangerous

dangerous jobs

Having a desk job is pretty safe; Mother Nature (plus gravity) is what'll kill you. A good number of the deadliest jobs in the US are done outdoors. Logging, fishing, farming, and construction are just a few of the jobs that are far more deadly than the national rate, of 3.2 deaths per 100,000 full-time-equivalent workers. Above are the 11 job categories with the highest fatal injury rates among all the jobs the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists.

Two big caveats here: one, the BLS doesn't list every job in its 2013 numbers; it limits its calculations here include only occupations where there were 15 or more workplace-related fatal injuries last year and 40 million or more work hours. That means if, hypothetically, 2 out of 20 circus elephant trainers in the US had on-the-job fatal injuries last year, they would have a fantastically high injury rate but wouldn't make this list.

Second, these are rates, not absolute figures; truck-driving by far had more deaths last year (748) than logging (59).

2) Driving is deadly

Cause of death

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

There were just over 4,400 fatal occupational injuries last year, and 40 percent were transportation-related. That would seem to make sense; driving is involved in many of the deadliest jobs. Truck-driving can lead to injuries from crashes, but so can collecting garbage, for example.

3) Men die of robbers. Women die of significant others.

Deaths by gender

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Some of the most stunning statistics involve the gender divide in workplace injuries. Firstly, men overwhelmingly face the highest fatal injury rates at work, accounting for 93 percent of all such injuries. But women also face different dangers than men — even when they're at work, women can't get away from abusive partners. More than one-third of women's homicide deaths on the job last year were due to relatives or domestic partners. And according to a 2011 article in the Annals of Epidemiology, 78 percent of those relative/partner homicides were committed by partners. Most frequently, these homicides occurred in stores and restaurants, as well as parking lots and garages.

4) Older workers have much higher rates than anyone else

older workers dying on job

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Older workers are much more likely to suffer from fatal work injuries, with a rate that's more than twice the total rate for all age groups. What that may mean is that as the workforce ages, we can expect the total rate to tick upwards.

5) Rates of injuries are falling

Workplace fatality rates falling

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Aging workers may well cause a rise in fatal work injury rates, but the trend has generally been downward. The total national rate is around 25 percent lower than it was in 2006, according to this chart from the Labor Department. And that downward slope has been even longer-term than that; data collected by the Labor Department shows that 20 years ago, the rate was 5 per 100,000 full-time workers, nearly 60 percent higher than it is now.

The downward trend stalled in 2009 through 2011, which may simply be normal noise in the data. However, as economist Alan Krueger wrote in a 2000 article, one theory dating back to the 1970s states that higher unemployment contributes to more workplace injuries, as work intensifies for the people who are still on the job.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.