U.S. workplaces have gotten a lot safer over the course of the past century. In 1913, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were 23,000 “industrial deaths,” or 61 for every 100,000 workers. In 2018, the number of what are now called “occupational fatalities” was 5,250, according to a BLS survey much more exhaustive than its 1913 precursor, or 3.5 for every 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.
But those 5,250 deaths were an increase over 2017’s 5,147, and workplace fatalities have been up for six of the last nine years (the chart starts in 1992 because that’s when the BLS started its more-complete Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries).
Recessions tend to reduce the number of workplace injuries and deaths because there are fewer workers to get hurt and because high-risk industries such as construction and trucking are often hit hardest by job losses. Some increase in fatalities was thus to be expected as the economy recovered in recent years, and the current number and rate of fatalities remain below the levels that prevailed before the last recession. (The BLS changed how it calculated the rates in 2006, which is why this chart only goes…
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