Self-employment, like any working arrangement, has its pros and cons. More freedom and independence but longer hours and irregular paychecks, for example.

Another downside of self-employment often goes overlooked: the higher rate of work-related fatalities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fatal injury rates are consistently greater among self-employed workers – in fact, more than four times higher than their wage-and-hour counterparts.

Why the higher fatality rates?

These rates are at least partly due to the nature of the work itself. Some of the most dangerous industries – construction, agriculture, forestry and transportation – also have high rates of self-employed workers. Farmers, for example, are at risk for accidents involving heavy machinery and treacherous weather conditions. Trade workers in construction (who are often independent contractors) are susceptible to falls, equipment accidents and other dangers. And commercial drivers are more apt to get into accidents due to the sheer number of hours they spend behind the wheel.

Still, self-employed workers have higher fatality rates than employees in the same occupations, indicating that other factors may also be at play. Many of those factors have to do with the workers themselves. According to one analysis, self-employed workers tend to work longer hours than employees. That means more time spent on the job – which, in turn, means greater exposure to work-related hazards and increased fatigue, resulting in a higher risk of accidents.

Self-employed workers also tend to be older. While there is certainly an upside to the judgement and wisdom that come with experience, there is also the downside of diminished agility and physical aptitude. Overall, older workers are both more prone to accidents and injuries and less likely to make a full recovery from those injuries.

Staying safe on the job

Injuries take a toll on workers across all industries. Lost wages, ongoing physical challenges and emotional trauma can all be among the fallout from job-related accidents. For many self-employed workers, the stakes are even higher, as workers’ compensation might not be available. Safety should be the No. 1 priority for all workers – self-employed or not.