June 2014

Comparing fatal work injuries in the United States and the European Union

This article uses workplace safety and health data for calendar year 2010 to compare fatal work injury counts and rates in the United States and the European Union.

In July 2012, at the special session on statistics at the Seventh United States–European Union Joint Conference on Occupational Safety and Health in Brussels, Belgium, representatives from (1) the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), both part of the U.S. Department of Labor; (2) the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and (3) Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union (EU), discussed the potential for developing comparable data on workplace safety and health. Both the United States and the European Union capture and report data on worker safety, including information on fatal work injuries and nonfatal injuries and illnesses. However, differences in injury definitions, data sources, and collection techniques make data comparisons difficult. The representatives discussed these differences and recognized that the data are most comparable for fatal work injuries. At the close of the Conference, BLS and Eurostat agreed to produce a comparison of work-related fatal injury counts and rates, using data for calendar year 2010. This article summarizes the results of that comparison.1

A comparative overview of U.S. and EU data

Fatal work injury data for U.S. workers come from the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program, which provides an annual count of all fatal work injuries in the United States. Data are available from 1992 to the present. CFOI data are compiled with the use of multiple sources, including death certificates, coroner reports, OSHA reports, and media reports; each fatal work injury is substantiated by at least two different source documents. On average, four source documents are identified for each fatal work injury. CFOI data provide details about the fatally injured worker (such as age and gender), the worker’s employment (such as occupation and industry), and the circumstances of the fatality (such as the source of, and event resulting in, the fatal injury). BLS releases these details in preliminary form in the summer following the year of death and in revised and final form several months later.2

Data for EU workers come from the European Statistics on Accidents at Work (ESAW) program and are mainly derived from administrative sources.3 Data collection started in 1993, with data being produced and published annually. Employers in EU Member States are required to keep a list of occupational accidents resulting in a fatality or in a worker being unfit for work for more than 3 working days. Information collected includes characteristics of the worker (such as age and gender), characteristics of the enterprise (including economic activity and size of the enterprise), and characteristics of the injury (such as type and severity). Details on injury causes and circumstances—that is, the direct source of an injury and the sequence of events surrounding it—are similar to CFOI source and event data, but not yet available from all Member States. Of particular interest to the European Union is the concept of deviation, or the way in which the circumstances of an accident differ from a normal work practice.


1 Information on the U.S.–EU Joint Conference on Occupational Safety and Health is available at

2 CFOI results, along with explanatory material and analytical articles, are available at Complete details about BLS procedures used to develop data on fatal work injuries are available in the BLS handbook of methods (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last updated July 2013); the chapter on BLS occupational safety and health statistics, which includes CFOI information, is available at Fatal work injury details, such as the source or event, are classified on the basis of the BLS Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System; information about this system is available at

3 In addition to ESAW data, information on EU workers is available through a periodic Labour Force Survey ad hoc module on accidents at work and other work-related health problems. Data from this survey module are available for 1999 and 2007. ESAW data were used in the comparison presented here.

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About the Author

William J. Wiatrowski

William J. Wiatrowski is an economist in the Office of Compensation and Working Conditions, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Jill A. Janocha

Jill A. Janocha is an economist in the Office of Compensation and Working Conditions, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.