By: Adam R. Young, Daniel R. Birnbaum, A. Scott Hecker, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: Recent data continues to show material disparities in serious injury and fatality rates among employees of differing races or ethnicities, with African-Americans and Hispanics showing considerably higher rates.

The National Safety Council has published its Injury Facts® report tracking and analyzing national data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on workplace injuries and illnesses. The NSC’s analyses highlight significant disparities in the occupational fatality rates of workers based on their race or ethnicity. While new data shows that White workers are killed the most (61%), followed by Hispanic or Latino workers (23%), Black or African-American workers (11%), and Asian workers (3%), the death rates of each group provide a stronger indication of those at risk. The absolute figures are misleading, as Black and Hispanic/Latino employees are killed at higher rates than whites working in similar industries. White workers experienced a death rate of 3.3 per 100,000 workers, compared to Black workers’ rate of 3.5, and to Hispanic or Latino workers’ even higher death rate of 4.5.

These disparities reflect long-standing trends in fatal injury detail.  The pandemic disrupted life in 2020 and led to a fewer number of hours worked. Because of this, all groups experienced fewer occupational deaths in 2020 compared to 2019.  In 2020, death rates decreased significantly for White (-12.1%), Black or African-American (-14.7%) and Asian (-17.1%) workers. The change for Hispanic or Latino workers, however, was minimal, with a drop of only 1.5%.

Causation for these disparities in fatality rates is hotly debated and open to interpretation.  Federal OSHA has prioritized enforcement efforts on “vulnerable populations,” which they define to include racial and ethnic minorities, women, and LGBTQ+ employees.  OSHA’s mission is, in part, driven to correct these types of injury and illness disparities.  OSHA’s ongoing efforts include interviewing non-English speaking workers during inspections, the Temporary Worker Initiative, heat illness and workplace violence enforcement through the General Duty Clause, pending regulatory rulemakings addressing these issues, and ongoing efforts to regulate COVID-19 in health care with a permanent standard based on OSHA’s prior emergency temporary standard for health care.

To help mitigate risk and to work toward reducing fatality rates for minorities, employers should confirm that their safety programs are made available to employees in a way each worker can comprehend.  For example, rules, training, discipline, and other safety-related documents should be provided in a language and at a reading level understandable to each worker.  If any workers are illiterate, then a safety program and its related documents should be communicated to those workers orally to ensure they can understand safety expectations, policies, and protocols.  For more information on this or any related topics, please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Group.