Employers must do more to protect Black and Latino workers killed on the job; workplace violence continues to be significant workplace problem
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released data showing that 5,190 workers died in 2021 because of job-related incidents. The bureau’s findings indicate that workers of color in the United States continue to die on the job at higher rates than all workers.
In 2021, the Black worker job fatality rate was the highest since 2007, at 4.0 per 100,000 workers. The Latino worker job fatality rate (4.5 per 100,000 workers) also remains significantly above the national average of 3.6 per 100,000 workers. These statistics do not include workers who died from illnesses such as COVID-19.
“We know that the majority of deaths on the job are preventable through common sense employer programs. Under the law, employers are responsible for maintaining a safe workplace. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw the prominent impact of workplace safety on our lives,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. “This report makes devastatingly clear that workers of color are disproportionately losing their lives on the job, and it is the mission of the labor movement to fight for equity and ensure that safety is a guaranteed right. We need to increase efforts to hold employers accountable and unionize dangerous industries that put workers at risk and hurt working families each year and continue to win strong standards.”
In 2021, increasingly dangerous jobs included transportation and material moving occupations; installation, maintenance, and repair operations; and building and grounds cleaning and maintenance operations—the three occupations with the highest increases in workplace fatalities.
“No one should leave for work fearful that they won’t make it back home to their family, yet that’s the stark reality for far too many people of color,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer and Chair of the AFL-CIO Task Force on Racial Justice Fred Redmond. “Corporations are failing these workers by not ensuring their safety on the job. This isn’t just a workplace safety issue; it’s an issue of racial justice.”
There was an increase in gun violence in the workplace, resulting in 387 of the 481 workplace homicides in 2021, the highest since 2016. Women workers were disproportionately killed by workplace homicide—accounting for 14.5% of homicides, despite representing only 8.6% of workplace deaths overall. Workplace violence is a pressing issue; work homicides accounted for 9.3% of all workplace fatalities.
“This data primarily focuses on deaths from workplace injuries, not chronic illnesses. We need to strengthen reporting efforts to ensure that work-related illnesses are tracked, counted, and reported, because they are not reflected here,” AFL-CIO Director of Safety and Health Rebecca Reindel added. “We need an honest picture of all dangers workers confront and must do more to protect them on the job.”
More workers are back to work since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but these data show that the risks workers face on the job are disproportionately borne by workers of color. In 2016, when 5,190 workers also were killed on the job, 587 Black workers and 879 Latino workers died. In 2021, 653 Black workers and 1,130 Latino workers died—an 11% and 22% increase in these fatality rates since 2016, respectively.