Academic journal article
By Pegula, Stephen M.
Monthly Labor Review , Vol. 127, No. 3
Almost 20 percent (1) of all the workplace fatalities in the United States in 2001 were incurred by self-employed workers, a group that accounted for only 7.4 percent (2) of the U.S. civilian workforce that year. This article explores the reasons self-employed workers face a greater risk of fatal occupational injuries than that confronted by wage and salary workers. Self-employed workers are commonly employed in industries and occupations with high fatality rates. Even when working in the same industry or occupation, however, self-employed workers face risks different from those of their wage and salary counterparts, as is evidenced by the different events and activities associated with their respective workplace fatalities. In addition, self-employed workers tend to have other characteristics, such as working longer hours and being older, that put them at a heightened risk of suffering a fatal work injury.
Two methods for examining the differences between workplace fatalities of the self-employed and those of wage and salary workers are utilized in the analysis that follows. First, the data are examined in a traditional manner: fatalities and fatality rates by industry and occupation, and fatalities by event, (3) worker activity, and other factors, are calculated. Second, a new statistic, the impact magnitude of exclusion, is used to illustrate how some occupations affect the self employed and wage and salary fatality rates differently. For example, excluding the occupation of farmers, except horticultural, from the calculations substantially decreases the disparity between the self-employed and wage and salary fatality rates, while excluding truckdrivers from the calculations increases the disparity.
Each year, the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) releases data on workplace fatalities. The census, which began in 1992, was developed to produce accurate, comprehensive, descriptive, timely, and accessible counts of fatal workplace injuries that occur during a given year. To meet these goals, and to ensure the validity of the data, the CFOI program utilizes a number of safeguards. (4) To be counted in the CFOI, the decedent must have a verifiable work relationship. (5) Once a fatality has been confirmed to be work related, information about the decedent and the fatal incident is gathered. For the purpose of the analysis presented in this article, workers will be broken down into two categories--self-employed workers and wage and salary workers--as follows: (6)
Self-employed workers consist of individuals who are self-employed; self employed contractors; partners or owners of an unincorporated business, professional practice, or farm; and family members working in a family business. (7) Wage and salary workers comprise all other workers who are working for pay or for other compensation and owners and employees of an incorporated business.
Employment figures are derived from the BLS Current Population Survey (CPS). (8)
Before proceeding with the analysis, some important data limitations must be noted. First, the CPS is a survey, so some degree of sampling error will be incurred. Next, the fatality rates presented are not completely accurate, because of the difficulty in definitively classifying workers as self-employed or as wage and salary workers. Therefore, at best, the fatality rates presented illustrate general magnitudes and trends.
Third, certain occupations with a small number of self-employed workers were excluded from the analysis. Two occupations that stand out in this regard are construction laborers and pilots. During the period studied, self-employed construction laborers had a fatality rate of 1,210.0, wage and salary construction laborers a rate of 35.4. Similarly, self-employed pilots incurred a fatality rate of 983.3, wage and salary pilots a rate of 66.1. …