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November 16, 2022
BLS: Nonfatal injuries, illnesses declined in 2021

Nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2021 decreased by 1.8% from 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) released November 9, which tallies all employer-reported workplace injuries and illnesses. The decline in injury and illness cases was due to a drop in illness cases, the BLS noted, with private industry employers reporting 365,200 nonfatal illnesses in 2021—down from 544,600 in 2020, which is a drop of 32.9%.

The decrease in reported workplace illnesses was driven by a 37.1% decrease in employer-reported respiratory illness cases in 2021 at 269,600, down from 428,700 in 2020. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 127,200 illness cases and 10,800 respiratory illness cases in 2019.

Cases of COVID-19 continued to affect the BLS’s SOII in 2021. Occupational injury and illness data collected in the 2021 SOII included cases of COVID-19 whenever a worker became infected as a result of performing work-related duties and the illnesses met other recordkeeping criteria. COVID-19 is considered a respiratory illness under criteria established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The incidence rate of total recordable cases (TRCs)—both injuries and illnesses—for private industry was 2.7 cases per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, which is unchanged from 2020. The BLS noted an increase in the rate of injury cases in 2021, with private industry employers reporting a rate of 2.3 cases per 100 FTE workers compared with 2.2 cases in 2020. Total reported injury cases increased by 6.3% to 2.2 million cases in 2021—up from 2.1 million cases in 2020, according to the BLS.

The rate of illness cases decreased from 55.9 cases per 10,000 FTE workers to 37.7 cases over the same period. The decrease was driven by the drop in the respiratory illness rate, which fell from 44.0 cases per 10,000 FTE workers to 27.8 cases.

Total recordable injury and illness cases increased in six private industry sectors in 2021, with the largest increases in cases in the retail trade and transportation and warehousing sectors. Retail trade increased from 341,100 cases in 2020 to 404,700 cases in 2021. Transportation and warehousing increased from 206,900 cases in 2020 to 253,100 cases in 2021.

Health care and social assistance were the only private industry sectors that had a decrease in the total number of cases in 2021, decreasing 183,200 cases to 623,000 in 2021. The decrease was driven by a 163,600 decrease in the number of respiratory illness cases in 2021, decreasing to 145,300 respiratory illness cases in the sector.

The BLS releases two reports each year collecting workplace injury and illness data: the SOII of nonfatal injuries and illnesses and the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), the bureau’s tally of all fatal workplace injuries in the United States.

Estimates involving days away from work (DAFW) by detailed case characteristics and worker demographics for 2021 are not included in the BLS’s latest report. In fall 2023, the SOII will begin biennial publication of DAFW and days of job transfer or restriction (DJTR) for the period from 2021–2022.

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