Injuries and illnesses occur without warning in every occupation, but some jobs have higher risks than others. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 2.7 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2020 among full-time equivalent workers in private industry. This number is down from 2.8 million in 2019, which is a 5.7% decrease.
While physical injury numbers were way down from 2.7 million nonfatal injuries in 2019 to 2.1 million in 2020, illness numbers quadrupled from 127,000 in 2019 to 544,000 in 2020. This shift was driven by a 4,000% increase (10,800 to 428,700) in respiratory illnesses brought on by COVID-19.
The top five occupations
The report identified five occupations with the highest risk of illness and injury in 2020. These are:
- Health care: These injuries traditionally involve slip-and-fall, sprains and strains, as well as respiratory illnesses.
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting: These essential but dangerous industries did not shut down in 2020.
- Transportation and warehousing: Those driving large trucks and semi-trucks see a lot of injuries caused by shifting cargo, loading and unloading cargo and motor vehicle accidents. Many illnesses are caused by the long hours, sitting and unhealthy food options on the road. The hard physical work of warehousing leads to muscle strain, tendonitis and the risk of the stock falling on them.
- Manufacturing: The working environments involve dangerous equipment and working in close quarters, which was a lethal combination in 2020.
- Retail: The working involves exposure from customers, stocking, and slip and fall issues.
It should also be noted that women and workers over age 65 face higher likelihoods of illness or injury.
Making workplaces safer
Education and new policies can make employees safer, but businesses may not look at it that way. However, they tend to notice when injuries and illnesses cost money and lead to problems filling positions. Workers can help affect change by reporting illnesses and injuries.