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Most Common Causes of On-the-Job Injuries in the United States

On Behalf of | Mar 7, 2022 | Workers' Compensation

Work environments should be safe and productive places for workers to do their jobs. Unfortunately, not all employers maintain safe workplaces. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, thousands of workers suffer serious injuries and lose their lives in workplace accidents every year. There were 2.7 million injury and illness cases reported by employers in 2020. Identifying the most common causes of on-the-job injuries in the United States can help you prevent an injury where you work.

Transportation Incidents

Transportation incidents are consistently the number one cause of fatal work injuries in the U.S. The 2020 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries found that 1,778 workers lost their lives in transportation incidents, accounting for 37.3 percent of all work-related deaths. Due to the nature of the transportation industry, this and material moving occupations were the most dangerous in 2020. The combination of transportation jobs and construction occupations accounted for almost half of all fatal workplace injuries in 2020 (47.4 percent).

Transportation incidents can refer to commercial truck accidents, delivery truck accidents, forklift accidents, tractor overturns, work vehicle collisions and rollover accidents. Some of these accidents take place on an employer’s premises, such as in a parking lot or warehouse, while others take place on the road. These accidents can be caused by driver negligence, employee carelessness or recklessness, defective vehicle parts, poor employee training, and lax safety regulations.

Overexertion and Bodily Reaction

According to the National Safety Council, the most prevalent cause of nonfatal injury in the workplace that required days away from work (that was not related to COVID-19) in 2020 was overexertion and bodily reaction. This category refers to overworked employees and injuries caused by excessive physical effort, such as heavy lifting, pushing, holding, carrying or throwing. It also refers to injuries caused by repetitive motion, such as back injuries, herniated disks, carpal tunnel syndrome and joint injuries.

Slip, Trip and Fall Accidents

The second most common cause of nonfatal injuries at work in 2020 was slips, trips and falls. These can mean falls on the same level or falls from heights. Examples include falls from tall trucks or vehicles, falls from scaffolds, collapsing structures, falls through surfaces, and falls from ladders. The industry where falls take the most lives is construction. Data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that the safety violation committed the most often in 2020 was fall protection in construction. Safety regulations give employers a duty to provide safe working/walking surfaces and fall protection systems.

Contact With Objects or Equipment

Another common cause of on-the-job injuries in the U.S. is contact with objects or equipment. This category can refer to contact with heavy machinery and workers who get caught in equipment. Examples include silos, manufacturing equipment and construction equipment. It can also describe an object striking a worker or a worker being thrown onto an object. These disasters can result in a worker’s body being crushed, pinched, squeezed or compressed.


Violence by other people and animals was the second most common cause of occupational death in the U.S. in 2020 after transportation accidents, accounting for 705 fatalities. The largest subcategory was intentional injuries by another person, which accounted for 651 worker deaths. Violence was also the cause listed for 39,310 worker injuries in 2020, according to the National Safety Council. Employers may be able to protect workers from violence with security measures, safety training and employee background checks.

Exposure to Harmful Substances or Environments

Statistics for worker injuries and illnesses and 2020 were influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 more than quadrupled the number of worker illnesses reported in 2020 from 2019. This resulted in “exposure to harmful substances or environments” being classified as the number one cause of injury and illness in 2020, up from the sixth position in 2019. Typically, however, this is near the bottom of the list. It can involve exposure to electricity, chemicals, radiation, extreme temperatures, pressure changes, contagions and traumatic events.

If you or a loved one suffered any type of on-the-job injury, discuss the option of filing a workers’ compensation claim with the lawyers at Hilley & Frieder.