Occupational Fatalities: Self-Employed Workers and Wage and Salary Workers: Although Making Up Just 7.4 Percent of the U.S. Civilian Workforce in 2001, Self-Employed Workers Incurred Almost 20 Percent of Workplace Fatalities That Year; Even in the Same Industry or Occupation, They Faced Risks Different from Those of Their Wage and Salary Counterparts
Pegula, Stephen M., Monthly Labor Review
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. In both occupations, self-employed workers' recorded employment over the period studied was very small: 10,000 for construction laborers and 12,000 for pilots. Using such small numbers is problematic because small employment figures can result in large shifts in the fatality rate?
Finally, CFOI categorizations can be misleading. For example, a farmworker can die in a car crash and be counted among the fatalities in the agricultural, forestry, and fishing industry, even if the event was only tangentially associated with a typical activity carried out in that industry. To deal with this problem, industries have been examined by occupation, and important occupations have been further subdivided by event or exposure.
From 1995 to 2001, the annual number of fatal occupational injuries to workers aged 16 and older in the private sector ranged from a high of 5,582 in 1997 to a low of 5,245 in 2001. (10) Because of differences in the scope of the CFOI and the CPS, the latter of which counts only workers aged 16 and older, all fatalities involving workers under the age of 16 are excluded from the analysis. In addition, because self-employed workers exist only in the private sector, the analysis is restricted to private-sector fatalities. Therefore, all occupational fatalities incurred by government workers (which totaled 4,374 from 1995 to 2001 for all workers 16 years and older) are excluded from the analysis. (11)
Table 1 shows workplace fatalities from 1995 to 2001 (12) for self-employed workers and wage and salary workers in the private sector. Although wage and salary workers suffered more than 3 times as many fatal occupational injuries as did self-employed workers, there were 9 times as many workers in the wage and salary group than in the self-employed group. To account for this disparity in employment, the fatality rate is a better statistic to use than the number of fatalities. The fatality rate is the number of workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers in a given industry, occupation, or other group over a specified period. (13) When fatality rates are compared, it becomes evident that self-employed workers were 2.7 times more likely to be victims of fatal work injuries than their wage and salary counterparts.
Fatalities among workers by industry
Some industries have inherently higher fatality rates than others, regardless of whether the worker is self-employed or working for a wage or salary. A worker in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry, for example, is more likely to suffer a fatal work injury than is a worker in the finance, insurance, and real estate industry. The reason is that the typical activities performed in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry are more hazardous than those performed in the finance, insurance, and real estate industry. With that in mind, it is important to determine whether being a self-employed worker means that one is more likely to work in certain industries than if one were a wage and salary worker.
As illustrated in table 2, self-employed workers were more prevalent in industries with high fatality rates. Almost one-third of the self-employed workforce was employed in industries with high overall fatality rates (greater than 10). By contrast, only 16 percent of the wage and salary workforce was employed in industries with high fatality rates. Most of the disparity comes from the large presence of self-employed workers in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry and in the construction industry. Notably, self-employed workers were 7 times more likely to be a member of the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry than were wage and salary workers. Because the self-employed are more likely to work in "dangerous" industries (industries with a fatality rate of 10 or more), self-employed workers are more at risk for fatal workplace injuries.
Not only do the figures in table 2 underscore the large percentage of self-employed workers in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry, but also, table 3 shows that this industry was the only one to have more occupational fatalities from the self-employed category (3,231, which made up 39.0 percent of all self-employed fatalities) than from the wage and salary category (2,190, which accounted for …
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Publication information: Article title: Occupational Fatalities: Self-Employed Workers and Wage and Salary Workers: Although Making Up Just 7.4 Percent of the U.S. Civilian Workforce in 2001, Self-Employed Workers Incurred Almost 20 Percent of Workplace Fatalities That Year; Even in the Same Industry or Occupation, They Faced Risks Different from Those of Their Wage and Salary Counterparts. Contributors: Pegula, Stephen M. - Author. Journal title: Monthly Labor Review. Volume: 127. Issue: 3 Publication date: March 2004. Page number: 30+. © 1999 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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