Dying for work: The magnitude of US mortality from selected causes of death associated with occupation

Am J Ind Med. 2003 May;43(5):461-82. doi: 10.1002/ajim.10216.


Background: Deaths due to occupational disease and injury place a heavy burden on society in terms of economic costs and human suffering.

Methods: We estimate the annual deaths due to selected diseases for which an occupational association is reasonably well established and quantifiable, by calculation of attributable fractions (AFs), with full documentation; the deaths due to occupational injury are then added to derive an estimated number of annual deaths due to occupation.

Results: Using 1997 US mortality data, the estimated annual burden of occupational disease mortality resulting from selected respiratory diseases, cancers, cardiovascular disease, chronic renal failure, and hepatitis is 49,000, with a range from 26,000 to 72,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are about 6,200 work-related injury deaths annually. Adding disease and injury data, we estimate that there are a total of 55,200 US deaths annually resulting from occupational disease or injury (range 32,200-78,200).

Conclusions: Our estimate is in the range reported by previous investigators, although we have restricted ourselves more than others to only those diseases with well-established occupational etiology, biasing our estimates conservatively. The underlying assumptions and data used to generate the estimates are well documented, so our estimates may be updated as new data emerges on occupational risks and exposed populations, providing an advantage over previous studies. We estimate that occupational deaths are the 8th leading cause of death in the US, after diabetes (64,751) but ahead of suicide (30,575), and greater than the annual number of motor vehicle deaths per year (43,501).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / mortality*
  • Cost of Illness
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / mortality*
  • Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Occupational Diseases / mortality*
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • United States / epidemiology