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February 2021 | Vol. 8 / No. 10

Fatal occupational injuries to independent workers

By Stephen Pegula and Matt Gunter

In recent years, the nature of the worker–employer dynamic has changed in many ways. One change is a shift from a continuous work agreement with no foreseeable end to a relationship that is finite and that encompasses a single-task, short-term contract, or freelance work. The rise of this so-called “gig economy” appears in the growth of peer-to-peer ridesharing applications on smartphones and the emergence of online marketplaces that match freelance labor to specific computer-based job tasks.1 One trait most of these services share is their ability to match consumer needs with available workers in real time.

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These workers, henceforth called independent workers, face unique challenges in terms of workplace safety. Independent workers are considered in current academic literature to be an at-risk group because of their fluid employment situation, which potentially puts them at greater risk for poorer workplace safety and health outcomes.2

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Current Population Survey (CPS) has published employment data on contingent/alternative workers, which are defined similarly (but not identically) to independent workers in the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), both in the past and, more recently, in June 2018.3 However, BLS has not published any data on the workplace injury and illness experience of independent workers until now. The CFOI identified 662 fatal occupational injuries among independent workers in 2016 and 613 in 2017.

This Beyond the Numbers article was prepared by Stephen Pegula and Matt Gunter, economists in the Office of Compensation and Working Conditions, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries program, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Email: Telephone: (202) 691-6170.

Information in this article will be made available upon request to individuals with sensory impairments. Voice phone: (202) 691-5200. Federal Relay Service: 1-800-877-8339. This article is in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.

Suggested citation:

Stephen Pegula and Matt Gunter, “Fatal occupational injuries to independent workers,” Beyond the Numbers: Workplace Injuries, vol. 8, no. 10 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 2021),

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Publish Date: Monday, February 8, 2021