Characteristics of fatal occupational injuries for the 5 year period 1980 through 1984, compiled by a NIOSH national traumatic occupational fatality surveillance project, were described in terms of demographics and information pertaining to injury and cause of death. Death certificates were obtained for fatal occupational injuries for workers at least 16 years old with "injury at work" and "external" cause of death indicated. Employment data from the current population survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics was used for characterization of fatality rates by age, sex, race, and occupation. Industry and state specific rates were determined from two sources, and annual rates per 100,000 workers were calculated. A total of 33,666 traumatic occupational fatalities were included in the 5 year period. Males were involved in 94 percent, and their rate per 100,000 was more than ten fold greater than that for women (rates of 11.2 and 0.9, respectively). Unintentional injuries comprised 84 percent of fatalities, while 13 percent were homicides and 3 percent were suicides. Blacks had a slightly higher rate (7.7 per 100,000) than whites (6.2 per 100,000), and other races had a three fold higher rate (19.0 per 100,000). The age group 25 to 34 years had the greatest number of fatalities, but the highest rate was in workers over 64 years old. Rates of fatal occupational injuries by state indicated the highest for Alaska and Wyoming and the lowest for Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Highest rate by industry was in mining. This was followed by transportation, communication, and public utilities; construction; and agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Transportation operatives had the highest rate by occupation, followed by farmers, nonfarm laborers, and craftsmen and kindred workers. The author concludes that the data base allows identification of groups of workers at high risk for work fatalities and monitoring of trends in occupational fatalities.