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With Nevada’s Economy Shuttered, Fewer Workplace Injuries

Since the United States reported its first case back in January, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has continued its spread, reaching every U.S. state and registering – as of this writing – nearly three-quarters of a million illnesses and more than 34,000 deaths. [1] And as we know, the virus’s toll has not been only one of sickness and death:  Some 22 million people have lost their jobs over the last four weeks, wiping out the slow but steady growth in American jobs since the financial crisis of 2008. [2] Here, we explore how COVID could affect workplace injuries now and in years to come.

In a Bad Economy, Las Vegas is Very Hard-Hit

For a comparison of the scale of the recent job losses, one needs to look to economic calamities like the Great Recession sparked by the 2008 financial crisis or to the Great Depression of the 1930s.  The best estimate is that 13 percent of the nation’s workforce is currently unemployed, the highest level since the Great Depression. [3] Some predict that nearly 50 million Americans could wind up out of work, with an unemployment rate as high as 25 percent. [4] But while other severe economic downturns have been brought on by a loss of business or consumer confidence, or by the bursting of a speculative bubble, this one is different, and perhaps unique. Because the coronavirus is so contagious – and potentially so lethal – the decision has been made to halt many forms of normal economic activity to cut down on person-to-person contact. Some have compared this to a medically induced coma: a severe intervention made to help a sick patient “ride it out” until a threatening condition has passed.

Nevada relies on tourism for a substantial portion of its economy, approximately four times as much as does the typical state. According to one study, Nevada’s economy is the second-most vulnerable to the unique challenges of the COVID shutdown. [5] A substantial share of Nevada’s labor force is concentrated in the tourism and hospitality sectors, and a week after Governor Steve Sisolak ordered all casinos closed, some 200,000 casino workers at Las Vegas Strip casinos were laid off. [6] Initial unemployment claims have pushed 80,000 each week since then, with nearly 300,000 Nevadans newly out of work as of early April. [7] According to the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, fully 30 percent of Southern Nevada’s economy is directly linked to the tourism sector. [8] Given that this economic activity is not “essential” and also involves the use of shared facilities and close personal contact with strangers, the tourism sector has been flat-backed by COVID-related restrictions.  As a result, Nevada workplace injuries, especially Las Vegas related work injuries, will follow suit during the pandemic, as so many individuals are employed in the tourism sector throughout the State.

With Less Work, Fewer Workplace Injuries

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – a federal agency that tracks all kinds of employment data on behalf of the federal U.S. Department of Labor – two categories of workplace injuries accounted for more than half of fatal workplace injuries in Nevada in the year 2018. That year there were 39 fatal workplace injuries, about midway between the recorded high- and low-points in the same data set. The high point of 71 fatal workplace injuries occurred in 2007, when Nevada was at the height of its housing-boom-fueled period of economic growth. The low point was just two years later, in 2009, when the same economy that had drawn hundreds of thousands of people to Nevada imploded, leaving Nevada one of the hardest-hit states as the Great Recession wreaked its toll. [9]

Of the 39 fatal workplace injuries in 2018, 22 of them (54 percent) came from transportation or violent encounters. Here’s a chart of the major categories:

  • Violence and other injuries by persons or animals – 10 fatalities (26 percent)
  • Transportation incidents – 11 fatalities (28 percent)
  • Fires and Explosions – 0 fatalities (0 percent)
  • Falls, slips, trips – 6 fatalities (15 percent)
  • Exposure to harmful substances or environments – 4 fatalities (10 percent)
  • Contact with objects and equipment – 8 fatalities (21 percent)
  • Overexertion and bodily reaction – 0 fatalities (0 percent) [10]

The COVID shutdown is likely to reduce both figures in this year’s statistics. Picking apart the data, we see that 5 of the 10 violent encounters resulted from workplace shootings. One of those encounters was a non-shooting “intentional injury by other person,” which most likely indicates one employee intentionally striking another. The data also indicate one other “intentional injury by person” not encompassed by these two subcategories, which could be interpreted as an incident of intentional self-harm at the workplace. The other three injuries were not caused by a person, suggesting they were caused by animals. [11] Given that all non-essential forms of person-to-person economic activity in Nevada have been shut down, it is very likely that this category of workplace fatality will fall significantly in the 2020 figures. One of the few places where coworkers can still commit violent acts against one another is in the construction field, where workers continue to work in close quarters.

On the other hand, transportation-related workplace fatalities may not decrease and could even increase due to the economic effects of COVID. Goods still need to be shipped from port to store – or, at least, from port to online-order fulfillment center. Nevadans are now taking fewer shopping trips but trying to cram all their shopping into one weekly or biweekly sprint, potentially causing distracted driving injuries that could hurt or kill Nevadans on the job. And many other Nevadans are relying on delivery services for all their household needs, putting more “gig workers” like drivers for InstaCart and DoorDash on the roads.

The remaining categories of fatal workplace injuries include slip-and-fall injuries and other kinds of worksite accidents. These workplace injuries are likely proportional to the amount of economic activity, and industrial production has been less affected, on the whole, than person-to-person sectors like tourism, leisure, and hospitality. Those looking for a silver lining to the COVID shutdown might take some solace in hoping that 2020 will see fewer workplace injury fatalities in Nevada and across the country.










[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

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