Workplace fatalities are on the rise in United States, including in the roofing trade.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 5,190 work fatalities occurred last year in the U.S. in 2021, the latest year of recorded statistics available. That’s roughly a 9% increase from 4,764 recorded in 2020. The fatal work injury rate was 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, which was also up for the second consecutive year, according the bureau’s 2021 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. It’s the highest the rate has been since 2016.

The fatal work injury rate for roofers per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers was 59, well above the 47 recorded in 2020. As a result, roofing remains one of the top three most deadliest occupations in the U.S., below logging workers (82.2 per 100,000) and fishing and hunting workers (75.2 per 100,000). Just as concerning is that those two occupations saw decreases in their fatal work injury rates while roofing experienced an increase.

Transportation crashes remained the most prevalent fatal event for workers in 2021 with 1,982 deaths, an increase of 11.5% from 2020. That’s about 38% of all work-related deaths for 2021.

The data also highlighted alarming trends when it came to African-American and Latino workers. The 653 fatalities among African-American workers was an all-time high. The number of Latino workers that died on the job (1,130) increased by 5% from the prior year, and reached the highest level in five years, the data showed.

Crashes were responsible for the most fatalities in both of these groups — 267 for African-American workers and 383 for Latinos.

Work related fatalities due to falls, slips, and trips increased about 5% in 2021, from 805 fatalities in 2020 to 850 in 2021. Falls, slips, and trips in construction and extraction occupations accounted for 370 of these fatalities in 2021, and an increase of 7.2% from 2020 (345). Falls, slips, or trips were the second highest cause of fatalities (272) among Latinos.

The census report followed a recent announcement that the rate of nonfatal roofing injuries is also on the rise. Data indicates the rate of nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in the roofing industry increased by 16% from the prior year.

Government officials said the statistics should be a wake-up call for stakeholders to redouble their efforts to ensure safe workplaces.

“In 2021, 5,190 workers suffered fatal work injuries, equating to one worker death in the U.S. every 101 minutes,” said Doug Parker, assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, in a press release. “Black and Latino workers also had fatality rates disproportionately higher than their co-workers in 2021. These are deeply troubling facts.

“Each of these deaths cruelly impacts these workers’ families, friends, co-workers and communities. They are clear reminders of the important work that must be done.” 

Other data of note:

  • African-American workers and Latino workers had fatality rates (4.0 and 4.5 per 100,000 FTE workers, respectively) in 2021 that were higher than the all worker rate of 3.6.
  • Workers between the ages of 45 and 54 accounted for more than 20% of fatalities for the year. That’s an increase from 13% in 2020.
  • Exposure to harmful substances or environments led to 798 worker fatalities in 2021, the highest figure since the series began in 2011.
  • Women made up roughly 8% of all workplace fatalities.
  • Suicides continued to trend down, decreasing to 236 in 2021 from 259 in 2020, nearly a 9% drop.