Laborers are particularly vulnerable to exertional injuries and illnesses, as they often engage in heavy physical work for prolonged hours, yet no studies have examined the top causes of catastrophic exertional injuries and fatalities among this population. The purpose of the investigation was to characterize the top causes of exertional injury and fatality within open access, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reportable data. A secondary analysis of OSHA reported injury and fatality data was performed through open access records from OSHA Severe Injury Reports (2015-2022) and OSHA fatality inspection data (2017-2020), respectively. The research team characterized each reported injury and fatality as "exertion-related" or "non-exertion-related. Injury and fatality rates were reported per 100,000 equivalent full-time worker years and included 95% confidence intervals (95% CI). Of 58,648 cases in the OSHA Severe Injury Report database from 2015-2020, 1682 cases (2.9%) were characterized as exertional (0.20 injuries per 100,000 full-time worker years, 95% CI: 0.19, 0.22). Heat-related injuries encompassed 91.9% of the exertional injuries (n = 1546). From the 2017-2022 OSHA fatality inspection database, 89 (1.9%) of 4598 fatalities were characterized as exertion-related (fatality rate: 0.0160 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, 95% CI: 0.009, 0.0134). The exertion-related fatalities primarily consisted of heat-related cases (87.6%). Exertion-related injuries and fatalities were most reported in Southeast states, in the construction and excavation industry, and among nonunionized workers. As heat stress continues to be recognized as an occupational health and safety hazard, this analysis further highlights the need for targeted interventions or further evaluation of the impact of heat stress on construction and excavation workers, nonunionized workers, and workers in Southeastern states.
Keywords: epidemiology; heat stress; physical activity; work.