Dying at Work
Eleven Americans perish each day at their place of employment. But in other developed countries, work itself is the killer.
Working can be deadly. The federal Department of Labor said Wednesday that 11 people in the United States die on the job every day, and another 50,000 perish each year from work-related illness or injury. Most of these deaths are concentrated in high-risk industries like mining, agriculture and construction, but not all: More than 400 people in professional and desk jobs lost their lives in 2012.
Elsewhere in the world, a leading cause of death is work itself. This problem is particularly acute in Japan, a country where social outings are often viewed as a professional responsibility. Officially, Japanese people work fewer hours per year than Americans, but this figure is misleading due to the prevalence of unpaid overtime work. Death from overwork—referred to as karoshi—is so common that insurance companies compensated 813 families for it in 2012.
In China, where employees often lack union protection, an estimated 1,600 people die each day from overwork. Workplace deaths have also surfaced in South Korea, Indonesia, and even in the United Kingdom, where a 21-year-old Bank of America intern died last year after pulling three "all-nighter" shifts in a row.
Although overwork has not been directly linked to deaths in the United States, professional stress in this country has attracted notice as a growing problem. One factor is technology: Email and mobile phones make it easier for people to be "on call" even when they're not supposed to be working. A 2008 Pew Research survey found that 22 percent of American workers are expected to check work email while they're not at work, while half do so on weekends. Mother Jones found that the percentage of professional and middle-income Americans who worked more than 50 hours per week rose considerably in the 30 years from 1977, years that have coincided with wage growth stagnation.
Despite these trends, you're still statistically likelier to die at work from a transportation accident, an altercation with another person or animal, or an accident with workplace equipment.