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Occupational Injury Deaths -- United States, 1980-1989

During 1980-1989, 63,589 workers died from occupational injuries, an average of 17 deaths per day. CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) monitors occupational injury deaths through the National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities (NTOF) surveillance system (1). This report summarizes occupational injury deaths compiled by NTOF * for 1980-1989 **.

The leading causes of occupational injury deaths were motor-vehicle-related injuries (23%), machine-related injuries (14%), homicides (12%), falls (10%), electrocutions (7%), and incidents during which a worker was struck by a falling object (7%). The industrial sectors with the highest average annual fatality rates were mining (31.9 per 100,000 workers), construction (25.6), transportation/communication/public utilities (23.3), and agriculture/forestry/fishing (18.3). The largest numbers of deaths occurred in the construction (11,430), transportation/communication/public utilities (11,320), manufacturing (8562), and agriculture/forestry/fishing (7480) industries.

Motor vehicles were the leading cause of occupational injury death in 34 states. Machines accounted for the largest number of deaths in seven states (Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota), as did homicide (Alabama, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Maryland, Michigan, New York, *** and South Carolina). Air transport crashes were the leading cause of death in two states (Hawaii and Nevada), and water transport incidents were the leading cause of death in one state (Alaska).

The construction industry accounted for the largest number of deaths in 15 states (Arizona, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia). Transportation/communication/public utilities accounted for the largest number of deaths in 14 states (Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, and Wyoming); agriculture/forestry/fishing, the largest number of deaths in 10 states (Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin); manufacturing, the largest number of deaths in eight states (Alabama, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, and Washington); mining, the largest number of deaths in three states (Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia); and construction and manufacturing, an equal number of deaths in one state (Vermont).

Mining was the highest risk industry in 23 states. **** Construction was the highest risk industry in 12 states (Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Dakota), and transportation/communication/public utilities was the highest risk industry in 12 states (Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming). Agriculture/forestry/fishing was the highest risk industry in four states (Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Rhode Island).

Reported by: Div of Safety Research, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: This report provides both the most comprehensive analysis of occupational injury deaths in the United States and the first description of patterns of occupational injury fatalities in all states. Based on these findings and previous studies, NIOSH recommends that states examine the industries and occupations at highest risk for or with greatest numbers of occupational fatalities. Preventing occupational fatalities requires the efforts of employers, employees, public health and other government agencies, industry, and labor officials.

Although rankings of causes of death varied by state, the overall leading causes of death were motor-vehicle-related incidents, machine-related incidents, homicides, and falls. Prevention of workplace deaths from these diverse causes requires multi-disciplinary approaches. For example, in preventing deaths from motor-vehicle crashes, existing injury-control technologies (e.g., safety belts and air bags) developed by organizations addressing public safety also may be applicable to workers whose job requires travel by motor vehicle.

Most occupational fatalities -- including nontraffic motor-vehicle-related deaths -- occurred at construction, agricultural, manufacturing, retail, and other self-contained or fixed worksites. These worksites provide unique opportunities for implementing injury-prevention strategies in relatively controlled environments. Prevention of worker deaths from machine-related incidents, homicides, falls, and other leading causes require interventions unique to the workplace (e.g., installation or redesign of machine guarding, use of personal protective equipment, improved environmental design, worker training, and employer/employee safety programs).

One of the national health objectives for the year 2000 is to reduce the number of deaths from work-related injuries to no more than four per 100,000 workers (objective 10.1) (3). The findings in this report may be used in targeting injury-prevention efforts for workers in groups that are at high risk for or are characterized by large numbers of occupational fatalities.

NIOSH has recently published Fatal Injuries to Workers in the United States, 1980-1989: A Decade of Surveillance: National and State Profiles (1). Single copies are available without charge from the Publications Office, Division of Standards Development and Technology Transfer, NIOSH, CDC, Mailstop C-13, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45226-1998; telephone (800) 356-4674; fax (513) 533-8573.


  1. NIOSH. Fatal injuries to workers in the United States, 1980- 1989: a decade of surveillance: national and state profiles. Morgantown, West Virginia: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, NIOSH, 1993; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)93-108S.

  2. US Department of Commerce. County business patterns {State files and machine-readable public-use data tapes}. Washington, DC: US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1980-1989.

  3. Public Health Service. Healthy people 2000: national health promotion and disease prevention objectives -- full report, with commentary. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1991; DHHS publication no. (PHS)91-50212.

* The criteria provided to the vital statistics reporting units for submission of death certificates to NTOF are 1) age greater than or equal to 16 years; 2) external cause of death (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, codes E800-E999); and 3) "injury at work?" item marked "yes". *

* Most recent year for which data are available. 

*** Because homicide data were not available for the entire period of the study, homicide numbers for New York were estimated. 

**** Denominators derived from employment data obtained from County Business Patterns, an establishment-based census of employers (2).

Disclaimer   All MMWR HTML versions of articles are electronic conversions from ASCII text into HTML. This conversion may have resulted in character translation or format errors in the HTML version. Users should not rely on this HTML document, but are referred to the electronic PDF version and/or the original MMWR paper copy for the official text, figures, and tables. An original paper copy of this issue can be obtained from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington, DC 20402-9371; telephone: (202) 512-1800. Contact GPO for current prices.

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