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Global Economics

Crave Physical Safety? Work on Wall Street, Not the Streets

A bicycle messenger rides through rain and snow in Washington, D.C.

Photograph by Douglas Graham/Roll Call

A bicycle messenger rides through rain and snow in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. government’s annual report on nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses came out today. In addition to delivering the good news that overall injury and illness rates fell again in 2012, it gives industry-specific data. If physical safety is important to you, read on.

The industry with the lowest injury and illness rate in 2012 was Wall Street: In the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ language, “securities, commodity contracts, and other financial investments and related activities” had a reportable incidents rate of just 0.2 per 100 full-time workers.

The bike messengers who swerve in and out of traffic to deliver packages to those traders belong to one of the most hazardous industries, with the injury and illness rate among “couriers and messengers” at 7.1 per 100 workers—or 35 times higher than in finance. The only industry with a higher injury and illness rate in 2012 was “air transportation,” at 7.4. That’s presumably because of injuries to baggage handlers, those guys who wrestle bags on and off luggage carousels.

By state, meanwhile, the risk of harm was highest in Maine and lowest in Louisiana.

Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting have a reputation for being dangerous—and they are—but at 5.4 incidents per 100 workers last year, the sector as a whole was no more dangerous than food manufacturing.

Strangely, local government workers continued to have one of the highest rates of injury and illness, at 6.1 cases per 100 full-time workers. The BLS report doesn’t explain why. Could be that their jobs are unusually dangerous—or perhaps that it’s easier for local-government workers to claim time off.

As for the overall injury and illness rate: At 3.4 per 100 across the private sector, last year’s number marks a slight drop from 3.5 in 2011 and, as the BLS notes, “continues the pattern of statistically significant declines that, with the exception of 2011, occurred annually for the last decade.” In 2003 the rate was 5.0. Remarkably, according to the BLS, “no private industry sector experienced an increase in the rate of injuries and illnesses in 2012.”

Coy is Bloomberg Businessweek's economics editor. His Twitter handle is @petercoy.

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