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Injuries and illnesses in the workplace, 1989.

During the past two decades, many Americans have become better prepared to face workplace hazards through enhanced job safety training and by following safety and health standards and procedures prescribed by government, industry, and labor. Despite these improvements, private industry workers sustained about 6.5 million injuries and illnesses on the job in 1989, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. (1) Nearly half these cases resulted in lost workdays, assignment of light duties, or other restricted work activity. The costs of these job-related disabilities are staggering: 60 million workdays lost to injuries and illnesses in 1989 cost billions of dollars in lost wages and production slowdowns and billions more in medical and administrative expenses. (2)

Occupational injuries and illnesses occur, with varying frequency, in all types of workplaces. Since the early 1970's, the Bureau's annual survey has classified injury and illness records for several hundred industries. The list includes not only industries with traditionally high rates of injury and illness, (3) such as ship and boat building and meat products, but also those with large numbers of injuries and illnesses, such as restaurants and health care facilities. (See tables 1 and 2.) Clearly, monitoring the injury and illness experience in both groups of industries is important in securing safer, more healthful workplaces for American workers.

In its annual studies, the Bureau develops several separate measures to track the most serious of these job-related incidents--injuries and illnesses involving at least 1 workday lost or restricted. (4) Two of these measures currently estimate worktime lost per 100 full-time workers: (1) lost workday cases, which primarily measures the occurrence of incidents; and (2) lost workdays, which indicates the severity of cases. A third measure--the average number of lost workdays per case--is another gauge of injury and illness severity, calculated by dividing the rate for lost workdays by the lost workday case rate.

These lost worktime measures, used in conjunction with overall injury and illness rates, can help identify industries that are especially hazardous. Water


transportation services (primarily longshoring), (5) for example, is not among the top 50 industries, based on the overall injury and illness rate. But its rate of lost workdays (343 per 100 full-time workers) shared first place with ship and boat building; and its average number of lost workdays per case (38) ranked first, well ahead of the corresponding figure (22) for ship and boat building.

Lost workday measures also can help analysts to differentiate among industries with similar overall injury and illness rates. A comparison of plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors with nursing and personal care facilities illustrates this point. In 1989, overall rates in both industries were similar, but the incidence and severity of lost workday cases were considerably lower in plumbing than in nursing homes, as shown in the following tabulation:
 Plumbing Nursing
 contractors homes
 Total case rate 15.7 15.5
Lost workday
 case rate 6.3 8.8
Lost workday
 rate 116.0 181.8
Average lost
 workdays per lost
 workday case 18 21

While the survey contains separate profiles of injuries, illnesses, and fatalities, (6) only the latter two types are discussed in this summary. (Injuries make up 96 percent of total recordable cases; thus, their features, which are extensively described in the 1989 survey bulletin, closely resemble those attributed to injury and illness cases as a whole.)

Illness cases. In 1989, approximately 284,000 new illness cases were recognized as being work related and, thus, recorded; slightly more than seven-tenths (205,000) were in manufacturing and nearly one-fifth (53,000) in trade and services. Chronic and long-term illnesses, often difficult to recognize or relate to the workplace, are included in the illness measures, but are clearly understated.

Of the seven BLS categories used to classify occupational illnesses, disorders associated with repeated trauma were, by far, the leading type of illness, accounting for about one-half of all illness cases reported in 1989. Repeated traumas include noise-induced hearing loss and conditions caused by repeated motion, pressure, or vibration, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. (7) A second category--skin diseases or disorders--make up slightly more than one-fifth of the illness case total. The other five illness categories for which separate data are available include dust diseases of the lungs (such as asbestosis); respiratory conditions caused by exposure to chemicals and other toxic agents; poisoning; heatstroke and other disorders caused by physical agents (such as radiation); and "all other" occupational illnesses, including malignant and benign tumors.

Fatality cases. Because they are relatively rare occurrences, work-related fatalities cannot accurately be measured through a sample survey. Although


3,600 work-related fatalities were reported in private sector establishments with 11 employees or more in the 1989 survey, the Bureau's findings show that this count substantially understates work-related fatalities for the year. Certain fatality patterns continue to emerge in the BLS survey: a large majority of reported workplace deaths occurred in construction, manufacturing, and transportation and public utilities, and the leading cause of fatalities on the job was, by far, over-the-road motor vehicle accidents. A COMPREHENSIVE REPORT on the survey, Occupational Injuries and Illnesses in the United States by Industry, 1989, Bulletin 2379, may be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, or from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Publications Sales Center, P.O. Box 2145, Chicago, IL 60690. The bulletin provides additional information on workplace injuries and illnesses by detailed industry level and relative standard errors of the survey estimates.


(1) Occupational injury and illness data reported in the annual survey are based on records that employers maintain under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Excluded from the act's scope were workplaces covered by other Federal safety and health laws. Thus, occupational injuries and illnesses for coal, metal and nonmetal mining, and railroad activities were provided to the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration.

The survey excludes the self employed; farmers with fewer than 11 employees; private households; and employees in Federal, State, and local government agencies.

(2) For estimates on the cost of work accidents, see Accident Facts, 1990 Edition (Chicago, National Safety Council, 1990), pp. 2 and 43.

(3) Incidence rates represent the number of injuries and illnesses, or both, per 100 full-time workers and were calculated as:

N/EX x 200,000


N = number of injuries and/or illnesses; EH = total hours worked by all employees of the industry during the calendar year; and 200,000 = base for 100 full-time equivalent workers (working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year).

A variety of useful incidence rates may be computed by making N equal to the number of injuries only, or the number of lost workday cases, or the number of lost workdays, and so forth. In each instance, the result in an estimate of the number of cases or days per 100 full-time workers.

(4) The number of days away from work or days of restricted work activity does not include the day of injury or onset of illness or any days on which the employee would not have worked even though able to work.

Lost worktime is but one indication of the "severity" of injury and illness cases. Some nonfatal cases without lost workdays, for example, may have been life threatening; such alarming incidents of safety and health problems are outside the definition of severity used in the BLS annual survey.

(5) For a detailed analysis of the industry, see Injuries Involving Longshore Operations, Bulletin 2326 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1989).

(6) An occupational injury, such as a cut, fracture, sprain, amputation, and so forth, results from a work accident or from exposure involving a single incident in the work environment. In contrast, an occupational illness is any abnormal condition or disorder, other than one resulting from an occupational injury, caused by exposure to environmental factors associated with employment. It includes acute and chronic illnesses or disease which may be caused by inhalation, absorption, ingestion, or direct contact.

(7) Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which the nerve passing through the wrist to the hand is pinched and compressed because of fast, repeated, forceful motions.

Melissa K. Hackey is an economist in the Division of Safety and Health Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Martin E. Personick, an economist in the same division, contributed to the preparation of this summary.
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Author:Hackey, Melissa K.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:Productivity in industry and government, 1989.
Next Article:Fundamentals of Employee Benefit Programs.

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