Do Federal Correctional Officers Face Higher Injury Risks?

by | Mar 20, 2015

Last Updated January 8, 2024
Our federal employee disability retirement lawyers report on the injury risk faced by federal correctional officers.

Federal correctional officers do not have your average job. The hazards these workers face on a daily basis at work expose them to injury and illness risks that may ultimately leave them in need of federal workers’ compensation benefits or disability retirement benefits.

One of the most thorough examinations of the risks that U.S. Bureau of Prisons correctional officers and their state counterparts face was conducted by researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and published in 2012 in the Journal of Safety Research.

In an introduction to the study, the researchers cite U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures that illustrate just how dangerous the life of a prison worker can be when compared to other occupations.

Looking at just one year’s worth of data, the researchers found the rate of non-fatal injuries requiring at least one day of missed work among correctional officers to be 445.6 per 10,000 full-time workers – or roughly four times the rate found among all occupations (117.2).

The researchers go on to assert that several factors may contribute to the challenging work environment and, in turn, the high injury rate among correctional officers. Those factors include “a rapidly increasing prison population, staffing shortages and high [employee] turnover rate.”

For instance, between 2000 and 2005, the nation’s state and federal prison population grew by 10 percent; the number of correctional facility employees, however, grew by only 3 percent during that same period, the researchers note.

Leading Causes of Correctional Officer Injuries

Estimated number and percentage of correctional officers treated in hospital emergency rooms by event between 1999 and 2008:

Event Estimate Pct.
Assaults/violent acts 47,500 38
Bodily reaction/exertion 25,400 20
Contact with objects and equipment 21,900 18


Leading Causes of Correctional Officer Fatalities

Number and percentage of correctional officer fatalities between 1999 and 2008:

Event No. Pct.
Homicide 28 25
Suicide 17 15
Transportation 45 40
Falls 16 14
Other 7 6

Source: Journal of Safety Research

Violence Is Leading Cause of Work-Related Injuries Among Correctional Officers

It should, perhaps, come as no surprise that “assaults and violent acts” are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries among correctional officers.

“Correctional officers may be required to work alone, work late at night, have close contact with inmates, and work unarmed,” the study states. “Institutional factors such as inmate overcrowding, inadequate officer training, inmate gangs, and staffing shortages also contribute to this increased risk.”

The study also identified violence as a leading cause of work-related deaths among correctional officers. Between 1999 and 2008, there were 113 fatalities, with homicides accounting for28 of the deaths. The majority of those correctional officers, 18, were killed by inmates.

While violence certainly is a concern, the study found that correctional officers face many other risks. For instance, transportation-related events and falls were the second-and third-leading cause of fatalities among correctional officers, according to the study.

Additionally, researchers found that a high number of prison employees have suffered injuries requiring treatment in an emergency department due to bodily reaction and exertion, which may include pushing, pulling or lifting people or heavy objects.

Another concern is mental health. According to the NIOSH researchers, 15 percent of correctional officer fatalities between 1999 and 2008 were suicides.

“Several studies have shown that work-related stress, anxiety and frustration are high among correctional officers,” the study points out.

Injured Correctional Officers Should Explore Options

It is important for federal correctional officers to understand that help is available if they have sustained a work-related injury or if they suffer from a disability –work-related or not – that keeps them from being able to do their job.

If you have questions about your eligibility for benefits such as workers’ compensation or federal disability retirement benefits, please feel free to contact Harris Federal. See our section on “What You Can Expect” when you speak with us.

We work with federal employees from all 50 states. Our goal is to help workers to understand their rights and determine the options that work best for them.

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