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Independent Workforce Safety

New Ways to Work means New Workplace Hazards

The advantages of Independent Work are well known – greater flexibility, more professional independence and higher levels of career satisfaction. The unrivaled growth of this segment of our workforce has upended the traditional employment arrangement, nearly an entire third of that in 2018 generated close to $1.4 trillion for the economy. As more and more Americans continue to pursue work outside of the constraints of a single employer, their increased flexibility has allowed for better use of talent and resources creating a more competitive economy where companies are shifting to becoming the client of choice.

Yet despite the known positives and benefits of working independently, this demographic also faces unique hurdles and challenges from their autonomous careers and positions – risks and dangers completely different from those of traditional workers.

Within the newly transformed employment model, Independent Workers must operate with far less workplace oversight and protections. Additionally, the near absence of any employment hierarchy and supervision creates hazards the traditional workplace does not have. And despite the size of the Independent Workforce, most of the government agencies responsible for enforcing safety standards and regulations have been slow to address these concerns, either no jurisdiction or no ability to ensure this type of safety.

As our economy continues to rapidly adapt to the Independent workstyle – it is essential for government agencies, businesses, Independent Workers and associations like iPSE-U.S. to take the necessary steps to address these additional safety concerns.

Key Risks and Challenges

According to the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, a leading expert on labor policy and the gig economy, the specific safety issues arising from the Independent Workforce include several factors all related to lack of proper oversight and channels to raise safety concerns.

Supported by data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these factors include:

  • Higher participation in risk-prone industries.

  • The fact that many workers lack the proper training, oversight and safety knowledge.

  • The absence of proper channels to address their concerns over workplace safety.

  • Greater youth participation which makes up nearly 40% of the Independent Workforce.

Understanding the Numbers – Government Oversight

In order to better understand these key risks and hazards faced by Independent Workers, government agencies designated new programs to properly count and identify where the greatest risk areas are.

Beginning in 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) started an annual study to asses workplace fatalities of Independent Workers. Important to note, however, with only three years of data utilized for this study, insights are limited. The Bureau used data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (or the CFOI) to analyze and compare the deaths of traditional workers to “non-traditional workers”.

The CFOI is an annual count of all fatal work injuries occurring in the U.S. and has its own set of criteria for who qualifies as an “Independent Worker”.

The numbers below reveal the comparisons between traditional employment and Independent Work:

The industries with the highest number of workplace fatalities were construction with 109, and trucking with 96.

Some key insights from BLS:

Independent Workers = Less Violence

Violence is far less common among independent workers than traditional workers. The study demonstrated that both workplace violence, homicides and suicides are much lower for independents.

Specific Industries = Specific Dangers

Certain industries among Independent Workers are far more dangerous for them than the traditional workforce. These industries include construction, trucking, and logging. This was calculated from “propensity ratios”, or ratios which indicate the tendency for an attribute between groups.

More research needed

The most obvious conclusion from this early piece of research – is the necessity for BLS and other labor research entities to conduct additional studies on the safety of Independent Work.

What’s next?

BLS and their researchers believe that much more data will be needed to draw further conclusions on the relationship between Independent Work and workplace-related fatalities.

As COFI will continue to record and publish this data, we at iPSE-U.S. believe they should take additional steps to better expand their measurement to include all independent workers.

This includes:

  • Expanding the narrow definition of Independent Work.

  • Utilizing additional data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries – the Bureau is only including “self-employed individuals” in their research.

  • Recommending additional input from gig economy companies and Independent Workers with a possible new survey.

We believe these steps must be taken to better identify the health and safety risks to Independent Workers and then work towards solutions to ensure their protection.

Data and stats:

BLS on Independent Workplace Fatalities

The study used 2018 statistics from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). The CFOI identifies and counts Independent Workers through its own criteria (different from that of BLS and other major research studies). The data below reveals the total number of workplace fatalities and how many of them were Independent Workers.

Data Limitations and Insight

Despite the leading labor research indicating that Independent Workers in America make up nearly 1/3 of the entire U.S. workforce, this study indicates that Independent Workers only account for 12% of the total number of workplace fatalities. Therefore, it is important when reading this data to consider the following factors:

  1. The limited scope of the data: This data from CFOI only measures three years. BLS will state that further data and research is needed in order to provide a more accurate analysis of Independent Worker safety.

  2. Who was counted: The CFOI sets its own criteria for counting Independent Workers. This data does not include full-time employees who engage in independent work (occasional workers and moonlighters). The study also does not count all self-employed individuals (by including all self-employed individuals the percentage of total workplace fatalities for Independent Workers jumps to nearly 20%).

Industry propensity ratios: And finally, in order to compare data on worker groups of different sizes, BLS used what are known as “propensity ratios”. These ratios indicate the tendency for an attribute between groups.

In the case of Independent Workers, these ratios revealed the following:

Independent Workers in the construction, trucking, and forestry and logging industries have a much higher risk of a fatal occupational injury than traditional workers. Sources:


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