A staggering 23,000 people died of work-related injuries in 1913. Thanks to labor unions and protections established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workplace deaths occur at only five percent of the rate they did in 1913. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lauded the twenty-fold reduction in workplace deaths as one of the great accomplishments of the twentieth century.
Even with the significant strides made to reduce workplace fatalities, 5,250 US workers died in 2018 because of occupational injuries, and 92% of the workers who died were men. The gender disparity in workplace fatalities has remained steady for the past 30 years. Why do so many more men die than women?
First, and perhaps obviously, more men than women work in the fields with the highest rates of occupational injuries. The occupations with the highest rates of deaths are loggers, fishing workers, aircraft pilots, flight engineers, and roofers. In 2018, 97% of loggers, 92% of fishing workers, 94% of pilots and flight engineers, and 98% of roofers were men. The workplace fatalities in these professions are caused by falls, exposure to harmful environments, and injuries by work equipment.
Differences in choice of profession explain only part of the disparity in workplace deaths. Over 40% of all work-related deaths are from transportation incidents. This statistic aligns with the larger trend that over twice as many men as women die in motor vehicle accidents each year. Homicide and suicide are the third-leading cause of workplace deaths. Nationally, 77% of homicide deaths and 79% of suicide deaths are men.
The ways that people get hurt on the job offer insight into the state of men’s health. Overall, men in the US are three times more likely to die of injuries than women. The gender disparity in workplace deaths cannot be attributed to biological differences between men and women. Rather, gendered norms in job choice and behavior place men at risk in and out of the workplace.
Databyte via “Number of occupational injury deaths in the U.S. from 2003 to 2018, by gender.” Statista. 2020.