Workplace Illness Down, But Injuries and Fatalities Up in 2021

ambulance at hospital

In late 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released data on workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities in private industry during 2021. The data includes a mix of good and bad news for workers and employers.

While workplace illnesses declined sharply compared to 2020, both the number and rate of workplace injuries and fatalities increased in 2021. The rate of injury increased 6.3 percent to 2.2 million cases and the number of workplace fatalities increased 8.9 percent to 5,190.

Fatal injuries in 2021 were led by workers in transportation and material moving occupations, who experienced a record high of 1,523 – an increase of 18.8 percent from 2020. Injuries and illnesses were once again highest in the health care and social assistance sector, but retail trade and transportation and warehousing had the largest increases in cases.

Here are some key points on 2021 workplace injuries and fatalities. Keep them in mind as you manage your own safety plan for 2023.

Key 2021 Workplace Injury and Illness Data

The overall rate of injury cases increased in 2021 to 2.3 per 100 FTE (full-time equivalent) workers, vs. 2.2 in 2020. Among key reporting sectors, only food manufacturing showed a reduced rate.

The rate of illness cases decreased from 55.9 per 10,000 FTE workers to 37.7. The decrease was driven by a drop in respiratory illness rate, which fell from 44.0 to 27.8 cases per 10,000 FTE workers.

Combined, there were 1,062,700 nonfatal injuries or illnesses causing workers to miss at least one day of work in 2021. That overall total is 9.7 percent lower than in 2020. The overall decrease is due to the reduction of COVID cases across the country, compared to 2020 levels.

2021 Injury and Illness by Industry

Transportation and warehousing – Cases increased 23.0 percent to 122,700, up from 99,800 cases in 2020.

Retail trade – The incidence rate increased from 3.1 in 2020 to 3.6 cases in 2021, an increase of 15.6 percent.

Wholesale trade – Incidence rate increased 12.1 percent to 40,400 cases.

Construction – Incidence rate increased 10.4 percent to 35,200 cases.

Leisure and hospitality – 235,300 total recordable cases in 2021, with a rate of 2.9 cases per 100 FTE workers, vs. 2.7 cases in 2020.

Food manufacturing – Incidence rate decreased from 2.5 to 2.1 cases in 2021, a decrease of 15.1 percent.

Counts of total nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses, injuries, illnesses and respiratory illnesses in private industry, 2017-21 (thousands):

YearTotal cases*InjuriesIllnessesResp. Illness
*Excludes farms with fewer than 11 employees
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Key 2021 Workplace Fatality Facts

A worker died every 101 minutes from a work-related injury in 2021. The 5,190 fatal injuries in 2021 is an 8.9-percent increase from 2020. The fatal injury rate was 3.6 per 100,000 FTE workers, up from 2020 and also the highest since 2016.

Transportation incidents accounted for 38.2 percent of work-related fatalities in 2021 and remained the most frequent type of fatal event. The total of 1,982 fatalities is an increase of 11.5 percent from the prior year.

Worker characteristics

  • Workers between ages 45 and 54 suffered 1,087 workplace fatalities, a 13.9-percent increase from 2020. This age group accounted for just more than one of every five fatalities (20.9 percent)
  • Transportation and material moving workers suffered the highest number of fatalities – a record-setting 1,523. This is an increase of 18.8 percent from 2020.
  • Fatality rates among African American workers (4.0) and Hispanic or Latino workers (4.5) per 100,000 FTE workers were higher than the overall worker rate of 3.6.
  • Women suffered 8.6 percent of workplace fatalities, and represented 14.5 percent of intentional injuries by a person in 2021.

Fatal event or exposure

Violence and other injuries by persons or animals caused 761 fatalities in 2021, up from 705 in 2020 (7.9 percent). The largest subcategory, intentional injuries by person, increased 10.3 percent to 718.

Exposure to harmful substances or environments led to 798 worker fatalities in 2021, the highest figure since the BLS created the series in 2011. This category increased 18.8 percent from 2020 – the largest of any category. Overdose from nonmedical use of drugs or alcohol accounted for 58.1 percent of these fatalities (464 deaths), up from 57.7 percent in 2020.

Falls, slips and trips increased 5.6 percent in 2021 to 850 incidents. Construction and extraction occupations accounted for 370 of these fatalities, an increase of 7.2 percent from 2020.


  • Driver/sales workers and truck drivers had a 16.3-percent increase in deaths, growing to 1,032 deaths in 2021.
  • Construction and extraction occupations had the second-most occupational deaths (951) in 2021, despite experiencing a 2.6-percent decrease in fatalities from 2020.
  • Installation, maintenance and repair occupations had 475 fatalities in 2021, an increase of 20.9 percent.
  • The fatal injury rate for fishing and hunting workers decreased from 132.1 per 100,000 FTEs in 2020 to 75.2 in 2021.

Workplace injury and fatality resources: