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March 2004, Vol. 127, No. 3
Occupational fatalities: self-employed workers and wage and salary workers
Stephen M. Pegula
Almost 20 percent1 of all the workplace fatalities in the United States in 2001 were incurred by self-employed workers, a group that accounted for only 7.4 percent2 of the U.S. civilian workforce that year. This article explores the reasons self-employed workers face a greater risk of fatal occupational injuries than that confronted by wage and salary workers. Self-employed workers are commonly employed in industries and occupations with high fatality rates. Even when working in the same industry or occupation, however, self-employed workers face risks different from those of their wage and salary counterparts, as is evidenced by the different events and activities associated with their respective workplace fatalities. In addition, self-employed workers tend to have other characteristics, such as working longer hours and being older, that put them at a heightened risk of suffering a fatal work injury.
Two methods for examining the differences between workplace fatalities of the self-employed and those of wage and salary workers are utilized in the analysis that follows. First, the data are examined in a traditional manner: fatalities and fatality rates by industry and occupation, and fatalities by event,3 worker activity, and other factors, are calculated. Second, a new statistic, the impact magnitude of exclusion, is used to illustrate how some occupations affect the self-employed and wage and salary fatality rates differently. For example, excluding the occupation of farmers, except horticultural, from the calculations substantially decreases the disparity between the self-employed and wage and salary fatality rates, while excluding truckdrivers from the calculations increases the disparity.
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1 All workplace fatality data are from the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). Although the CFOI counts all workers, regardless of age, fatality figures in this article are for workers in private industry aged 16 and older. Also, workplace fatalities for which the decedent’s age was not known were excluded.
2 Employment data are from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (See note 8 for more information about the CPS.)
3 According to the Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System, the event or exposure describes the manner in which the fatal injury was produced.
Related BLS programs
Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities
Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey
individuals fatally injured at work.—Aug.
Changing character of fatal work injuries, The.—Oct. 1994.
Fatal work injuries: results from the 1992 national census.—Oct. 1993.
A census approach to counting fatal work injuries (PDF 342K).—Dec. 1990.
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