Workers' compensation laws exist to protect workers injured on the job and families who have lost a loved one at work.
The severity of injury may vary widely from minor issues that cause employees to miss a few days of work to major trauma that results in death. The following report explores work injury trends in South Carolina and nationwide where data is available for 2020 and 2021.
Representing Injured People Since 1927
Worker Injuries and Illnesses in the U.S.
Statistics from 2020 show improvements in injury and fatality numbers nationally and statewide. The exception to this trend is a large increase in workplace illness cases. However, these numbers are likely anomalous compared to prior years due to disruptions the COVID-19 pandemic created in workplace environments.
The Southeast Information Office of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports yearly workplace injury, illness, and fatality rates for both the public and private sectors. The agency provides data for South Carolina and for the United States as a whole. It also offers comparisons of incidence rates from state to state.
According to data from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, employers reported 2.7 million injury and illness cases in 2020 in the U.S. Reported incidents decreased in 2021, with employers reporting only 2.6 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses. This represents a 1.8 percent decline from 2020.
This fluctuation can be attributed in large part to illness cases reported during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey of occupational illnesses includes cases of COVID-19 that occurred when a worker was infected while performing work-related duties.
For example, reported injuries dropped from 2.7 million in 2019 to 2.1 million in 2020, a 22 percent decrease. At the same time, illness cases quadrupled to 544,600. In 2021, the rate of illnesses reported by private industry employers dropped 33 percent, bringing nonfatal illness cases to 365,200. Specifically, respiratory illnesses dropped from 428,700 in 2020 to 269,600 in 2021, a 37 percent decline.
Even with the decline in 2021, these levels remain significantly above the rate of 127,200 illness cases and 10,800 respiratory illness cases reported in 2019.
South Carolina Work Injuries
In 2020, private employers in South Carolina reported 29,100 nonfatal injuries and illnesses, which translates to an incident rate of 2.1 cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers. In 2021, the private sector reported 30,300 such injuries and illnesses, which equates to an incidence rate of 2.2 cases per 100 workers.
Public sector employers reported 8,100 injury and illness cases in 2021, 72 percent of which happened among local government workers. Occupational illness trends showed a similar pattern in South Carolina as that seen nationwide. Private sector illnesses constituted 4,200 of total reported cases in 2020 and 3,100 in 2021, a decline of 26 percent.
Respiratory illnesses accounted for 79 percent of the total occupational illnesses reported in South Carolina in 2020.
In 2021, 89.8 percent of private industry recorded incidents were injuries.
South Carolina Public and Private Sector Incidents
How South Carolina Compares to the Rest of the U.S.
South Carolina’s incidence rate of total recordable cases (TRC), or the number of workplace injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time workers, stood at 2.2 in 2021. South Carolina is one of 12 states that has an incidence rate below the national rate of 2.7.
South Carolina’s 2020 incidence rate was 2.1 injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time workers.
Fatal Workplace Accidents
An American worker died every 111 minutes in 2020 and every 101 minutes in 2021.
Nationwide, fatal workplace injuries in 2020 were down 10.7 percent from 2019, dropping from 5,333 to 4,764.
However, the number of fatal work injuries in the U.S. climbed in 2021, with 5,190 fatal events recorded in the United States. This was an 8.9 percent increase from 2020 and likely reflects the trend of employees returning to the workplace as pandemic protocols were lifted.
Nationwide, the fatal work injury rate in 2021 was 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. This number represents an increase from 2020’s rate of 3.4 and is up from the 2019 pre-pandemic rate of 3.5. It is the highest reported fatality rate since 2016.
According to SC Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 107 workplace fatalities were reported in South Carolina in 2021. Of these, 100 occurred in private industry occupations. Only 7 public sector deaths were reported.
Fatal Work Accident Demographics
Men are victims of fatal incidents at a significantly higher rate than women. More than 90 percent of employees who die because of a work accident are men. Nationwide, 91.9 percent of 2020, and 91.4 percent of 2021 workplace deaths were among men.
In South Carolina, 88.5 percent of reported 2021 workplace fatalities were men.
Certain demographic groups also continue to face higher than average rates of work-related deaths nationally. The fatal work injury rate for black and Hispanic workers are both higher than the overall national rate of 3.6. Black workers experienced a fatality rate of 4.0 in 2021. The rate for Hispanic or Latino workers was 4.5. deaths per 10,000.
Fatal Workplace Accident Trends
Workplace Deaths by Fatal Event
The transportation sector sees the highest number of fatal accidents, with 1,778 reported deaths in 2020.
Transportation incidents were again the most common fatal event in 2021, with 1,982 reported deaths. Even with this increase, U.S. transportation deaths are down 6.6 percent from 2019 when there were 2,122 fatalities.
In South Carolina, transportation accidents are also the most common fatal event, with 42 and 49 reported fatalities in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted some statistically significant swings in reported fatal events:
Significant Swings in Causes of Workplace Deaths
- Intentional injuries by another person dropped 14.5 percent from 2019 to 2020 but increased by 10.3 percent in 2021, with 718 reported cases.
- Deaths from exposure to harmful environments and substances jumped to 798 in 2021, which is the highest number recorded since reporting began in 2011. Deaths in this event category showed the largest year-over-year increase, rising 18.8 percent from 2020 to 2021.
- Fatalities from slips, trips, and falls rose 5.6 percent in 2021, from 805 fatalities to 850. Most of these incidents happened in construction and extraction occupations, with 370 deaths in 2021. This reflects an increase of 7.2 percent from 2020, however, fatalities in construction and extraction are still down 9.3 percent from 2019, when there were 408 industry deaths.
In South Carolina, deaths from slips, trips, and falls, and exposure to harmful substances were the second and third leading reported fatal event categories, with 16 and 13 deaths respectively.
Workplace Fatalities by Occupation and Location
While transportation deaths were the most common cause of reported workplace fatalities in South Carolina in 2021, not all incidents occurred within the same industry. Industries with the most transportation incidents include:
- Transportation and warehousing: 16
- Leisure, hospitality, arts, entertainment, and recreation: 10
- Administrative support: 7
- Construction: 6
- Specialty contractors: 4
Workers in professional and business service occupations experienced the same fatality rate as those in the construction industry, with each category reporting 21 deaths in 2021.
Of the reported construction industry deaths, only one was reported in the highway, street, and bridge construction sector while the majority, 18, occurred within the specialty trade contractors sector.
The four locations where most fatal workplace incidents were reported in South Carolina in 2021 were:
- Street and highway: 40
- Industrial place and premises: 19
- Home: 15
- Public building: 9
Workplace Fatalities by Occupation and Location in South Carolina
South Carolina Work Injury Charts
In 2021, South Carolina employers reported 30,300 non-fatal injuries and illnesses
Number and rate of nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in the private industry in the United States and South Carolina, 2021:
Nonfatal work injuries and illnesses by selected industries and types in South Carolina in 2021. Numbers in thousands.
The South Carolina Workers' Compensation System
The South Carolina workers' compensation system is a no-fault system. This means the insurance program does not assess fault or determine negligence to decide whether an injured worker is entitled to compensation. Negligence does not bar a worker from recovering damages if that worker was injured on the job.
Employer negligence also does not increase the value of the worker's claim for compensation. Workers' compensation laws determine rates of compensation based on injury type and severity, up to established maximums.
The amount a worker will receive depends on several factors including prior average weekly wages, the extent of injuries, and the employee’s ability to continue working.
In South Carolina, an employer can select the worker’s treating doctor. Your medical bills may not be paid if you visit an unauthorized doctor. If you required emergency treatment and were referred for follow-up treatment, the referral must also be approved.
A South Carolina worker cannot be fired in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. If a worker is fired, they may sue their employer in civil court.
Who Pays Workers' Compensation Claims in South Carolina?
The employer's insurance company is responsible for paying workers' compensation benefits. The insurance company also ensures that medical care is provided and that providers are paid.
The South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act allows for three types of benefits: medical benefits; lost wages; and permanent disability benefits. The law does not allow recovery for pain and suffering.
South Carolina Third-Party Claims
A third-party claim is predicated on who caused a worker's injuries or death. A third-part claim is civil litigation that may provide financial support in addition to workers’ compensation benefits.
In South Carolina an injured worker may file a third-party claim if the incident that led to the injury was not caused by the employer or another employee. For example, if an employee is injured in a car accident while driving on the clock as a part of their work duties, they may have a third-party claim against the at-fault driver.
Your South Carolina Workers' Compensation Law Firm
Contact the Steinberg Law Firm for Immediate Assistance with a Workers' Compensation Claim. If you have been in an accident at work, call the Steinberg Law Firm to discuss your case.
The Charleston workers’ compensation lawyers at Steinberg Law Firm have handled thousands of workers’ compensation cases. Let us use our experience to help you through a turbulent and difficult time.
You should never feel forced to make a living at the expense of your health after a workplace injury, and we can make sure that does not happen.
For a free case review, call us at (843) 720-2800.