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Exploring the Most (and Least) Dangerous States for Workers

Written by
A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.
Victoria Muñoz
Lead Attorney
August 29, 2023  ·  4 min read
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Key takeaways

  • North Dakota has the most OSHA work-related fatalities reported in the U.S. at 1.7 per 100,000 workers.
  • Maine has the most non-fatal workplace injuries at 4.7 per 100 workers.
  • Transportation and material moving occupations are the most dangerous, accounting for 30% of all fatal work injuries.
  • Alabama and Louisiana are the safest states for female workers, with 4% of fatal workplace injuries affecting females. 
  • 19% of employees have been physically injured at work, and 26% of them filed workers’ compensation as a result.

Safeguarding the physical well-being of employees

Workplace safety is a cornerstone of a successful work atmosphere, particularly when it protects employees’ physical well-being. Beyond the evident physical consequences, workplace injuries can result in mental, emotional, and financial struggles for workers. When companies prioritize safety, they aren’t just keeping their workforce safe but also reducing the burdens that injuries can place on workers and their families.

To explore the topic of job safety in the United States, we developed a comprehensive ranking of the safest and most dangerous states for workers. We used non-fatal workplace injury data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and fatal and catastrophic workplace injury data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). We also reviewed Google Trends search volume data for workplace-related injuries and explored the results based on industry, occupation, injury type, and gender. Finally, we surveyed 1,000 workers about their perceived safety at work.

Through this research, we hope to foster awareness and stimulate conversation about workplace safety, potentially influencing policy and practices for a safer American workforce.

Ranking workplace safety across the U.S.

When it comes to workplace safety, some states fare better than others. Let’s explore our research findings and discover how each state ranks in terms of workplace safety.

Workplace Safety Ranking 1Workplace Safety Ranking 1b

Various factors can contribute to the differences in workplace safety records among states, including regulations, enforcement of safety standards, industry composition, and cultural attitudes toward safety. 

Our meta-ranking of states based on BLS data, OSHA data, and Google search volume for work-related injuries found that North Dakota, Georgia, and Mississippi were the most dangerous states for workers. The safest states were South Dakota, Washington, and New Hampshire.

A closer look at OSHA rankings revealed that North Dakota, Mississippi, and Kentucky had the highest work-related fatalities. Meanwhile, Maine, Oregon, and Vermont topped BLS’ rankings of non-fatal workplace injuries.

Workplace danger by the numbers

With a basic overview of workplace safety across the U.S., let’s take a closer look at some of the most standout injury statistics.

Workplace Injuries Asset 2

States with stringent safety regulations, effective oversight by regulatory bodies like OSHA, and proactive efforts by employers tend to have lower rates of workplace injuries and fatalities. As a result, certain states exhibit a stronger commitment to fostering safe work environments, while others might face more significant challenges in maintaining optimal job safety conditions.

With that in mind, North Dakota had the most OSHA work-related fatalities at 1.7 per 100,000 workers. Policy-makers and employers in North Dakota may want to revise existing safety measures to improve workplace conditions in the state. In contrast, Vermont and Washington have found ways to prioritize worker safety, as demonstrated by their commendable record of zero work-related fatalities per 100,000 workers. 

As for non-fatal injuries, Maine experienced the highest incidence, with 4.7 injuries per 100 workers. Conversely, Louisiana had the lowest non-fatal work injury rate at 1.9 per 100 workers, followed closely by Virginia and Texas with rates of 2.1 each. 

Shifting the focus to internet searches concerning work-related injuries, Georgia had the highest search volume for workers’ compensation information, suggesting a notable interest in this subject. On the other hand, West Virginia had the lowest search volume. 

These results portray a complex landscape of workplace safety, revealing both areas of progress and potential for improvement nationwide.

Industries with the most injuries

While state rules and regulations have a powerful impact on workplace safety, some industries are inherently more hazardous than others. Let’s look at injury statistics by industry to discover the safest and most dangerous industries to work in.

Occupations Most Injuries

In high-risk industries like construction and manufacturing, the blend of machinery, heavy equipment, and hazardous materials creates a setting where workers face increased dangers. As a result, workers can experience physical injuries like falls, machine accidents, exposure to toxins, and more. 

Overall, transportation and material moving jobs accounted for 30% of work-related fatalities, proving them particularly dangerous. Jobs in construction and extractions were the second-most dangerous, accounting for 19% of work-related fatalities.

Additionally, construction workers were almost three times more likely than the national average to experience non-fatal falls from a height. Interestingly, leisure and hospitality industry workers were over six times more likely than the national average to get sick or injured due to extreme temperatures.

The most common non-fatal workplace injuries involved exposure to harmful substances or environments (35%) and overexertion (21%).

Let’s take a moment to look at how women are affected by workplace injuries.

Female Workplace Injuries

Regarding fatal workplace injuries, females represented almost one-quarter of all fatal injuries in Delaware, the highest percentage of any state. Conversely, women represented just 4% of fatal workplace injuries in Alabama and Louisiana, making them the safest states for female workers.

How safe do workers feel?

How workers feel when on the job is just as important as statistics. We surveyed 1,000 workers about their perceptions of safety while at work.

How safe do workers feel

Our survey found that 40% of workers had sustained at least one injury while on the job. Of these, 19% sustained physical injuries, and 26% of those workers filed for workers’ compensation as a result. However, 38% of all workers surveyed did not have employer-sponsored disability insurance.

The most commonly reported injuries, making up 52% of cases, were related to mental health issues like stress and anxiety. Sprains, strains, or fractures accounted for 50% of cases, and burns or cuts accounted for 31%.

To help reduce these injuries, over one-quarter of all respondents were willing to adjust their work schedules to ensure greater safety. Similarly, 30% of respondents would be willing to forgo convenience in favor of improved workplace safety.

Prioritizing safety in the workplace benefits everyone

Workplace safety is a matter of fundamental importance that directly impacts employee well-being. Providing a secure work environment isn’t just a legal obligation but a moral duty that safeguards individuals from physical harm, stress, and anxiety. It also fosters a sense of trust, increasing employee engagement and satisfaction — which improves productivity, retention, and the bottom line. Ultimately, workplace safety is a cornerstone for the success, well-being, and sustainability of employees and organizations alike.

Methodology 

We collected recent data from OSHA, BLS, and Google Trends search volume for the following three variables to determine the most dangerous states for workers:

  • 2022-2023 OSHA work-related fatalities per 100,000 workers (40%)
  • 2021 BLS non-fatal injuries per 100 workers (30%)We re-weighted states with “undisclosed” data to account for this in the final score
  • 2022-20223 work-related injury search volume data (30%)“Workers comp”“How to file for workers comp”

We also surveyed 1,000 workers to explore their perceived safety at work. 

About Atticus

Atticus helps Americans in a crisis access aid from the government and insurance companies. Our in-house legal team, client advocates, and a network of law firms has advised thousands on workers’ compensation and disability benefits.

Fair use statement

Help us continue the job safety conversation by sharing this information for noncommercial purposes. Please link back to this article so readers can access our full findings and methodology.

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A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.

Victoria Muñoz

Lead Attorney

Victoria Muñoz is an attorney on Atticus’s Workers' Compensation team. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of Stanford Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking workers' compensation. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and spending time with her pup.
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