Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who gets included in the BLS counts of workplace injuries and illnesses?

Occupational injury and illness estimates are derived from the BLS annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII). The SOII remains the largest occupational injury and illness surveillance system in the country, providing injury and illness counts and rates for a variety of employer, employee, and case characteristics based on a sample of over 230,000 establishments. Figures are calculated nationally and for 44 participating states and territories (including the District of Columbia), allowing for detailed analyses of the magnitude, patterns, and trends in occupational injuries and illnesses.

The survey captures data from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) logs of workplace injuries and illnesses maintained by employers. The estimates cover nearly all private-sector industries, as well as State and local government (as of 2008 data). Small farms with fewer than 11 employees, Federal government agencies, self-employed and household workers are outside of the scope of the SOII because they are not covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. More on the scope and coverage of the SOII can be found at www.bls.gov/opub/hom/homch9_a.htm#scope_SOII.

Is the BLS count of workplace injuries and illnesses complete?

BLS data on nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses come from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII), an annual survey of roughly 250,000 private employers, State governments, and local governments. Establishments selected for the survey are required to maintain a log of worker injuries for a year; the log is developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and includes specific guidelines on what workplace injuries are to be recorded. The BLS data come from these OSHA logs and are based on employer understanding of OSHA recordkeeping guidelines.

While the BLS occupational injury and illness data have been the subject of scrutiny from time to time, several studies released in the mid-2000s are the first specific research documenting missing cases in individual firms, as determined by comparisons between the SOII and state workers’ compensation data. Follow-up research on this topic by Nicole Nestoriak and Brooks Pierce, Research Economists at the BLS, demonstrates that there are certain factors that may be associated with differences in the data captured in various sources, including the establishment type, the time of the case filing, and the injury type. The evidence suggests that data are easier to match across data sources, methodologically, for single-establishment firms than for multi-establishment firms. Injuries or illnesses with lengthy onsets or long latency periods, such as hearing loss and carpal tunnel syndrome, are less likely to be captured on OSHA logs and reported in the SOII than easily identifiable traumatic work injuries, such as lacerations or fractures. This is, in part, due to the timely nature of SOII data, which are collected shortly after the calendar year, whereas workers’ compensation claims may be established, updated, or adjudicated years later, depending on specific State laws. Injuries and illnesses that occur at the end of the year also tend to appear less frequently in the SOII data than in workers’ compensation for similar timeliness reasons. Nestoriak and Pierce's research article, Comparing Workers' Compensation claims with establishments' responses to the SOII, appeared in the May 2009 edition of the Monthly Labor Review.

In addition, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) analyzed audits of the OSHA logs of workplace injuries and illnesses and what factors may affect the accuracy of employers’ injury and illness records. According to the October 2009 GAO report Enhancing OSHA's Records Audit Process Could Improve the Accuracy of Worker Injury and Illness Data, there were many factors affecting the accuracy of these data, including a number of disincentives for both employers and employees to record an injury or illness. Since the BLS captures information from these OSHA logs for the SOII, issues affecting the accuracy of the logs would likewise adversely affect SOII data.

For more background on the various dimensions of a possible SOII undercount, see Examining evidence on whether BLS undercounts workplace injuries and illnesses by John Ruser, which appeared in the August 2008 edition of Monthly Labor Review.

What is the BLS doing to understand and address any issues about the completeness of workplace injury and illness data?

At the request of Congress, the BLS has established an ongoing research program to identify any concerns about the completeness of workplace injury and illness data; to quantify the magnitude of any undercount and determine whether the amount has changed over time or is more pronounced for certain industries, occupations, or types of injuries; and to implement improvements and provide data users with information on data quality.

BLS conducted a first round of research between 2009 and 2012, coordinating with several State Agency grantees and a contractor. The first project was an attempt to enumerate the total number of work-related amputations and instances of carpal tunnel syndrome in the States of Washington, California, and Massachusetts using multiple data sources, such as the SOII, workers’ compensation claims, and hospital discharge records. Second, research was undertaken for the States of California, Kentucky and Washington to supplement previous research that matched SOII with workers’ compensation data to determine both the proportion of cases captured by these surveillance systems and what types of case characteristics are related to differences in cases captured. Finally, “follow-back” interviews were conducted with a selection of establishments to help determine how differences in injury and illness recordkeeping practices may affect reporting discrepancies between the SOII and workers’ compensation systems.

From this first round of research, BLS identified the following:

  • The SOII undercounts some injuries and illnesses, and the magnitude of the estimated undercount varies dramatically based on the methodologies employed by the researchers. This variation is due to the technical difficulties associated with matching between SOII and workers’ compensation data. The magnitude may differ by state, and it is unknown whether the undercount changes over time or in response to regulatory changes affecting the SOII and workers’ compensation.
  • A national multisource enumeration of workplace injuries and illnesses is not a practical solution to the undercount. Technical challenges in matching across data sets, resource requirements, and variations between data available to each state limit the feasibility of this approach for nonfatal injury and illness surveillance. Individual states may wish to pursue a multisource enumeration, based on available data, focused on specific topics of interest.
  • The employer interviews were an invaluable tool for understanding some of the results of the data matching, even if their observations were qualitative in nature.
  • The research did not identify a prominent cause of the undercount, but rather identified a multitude of factors that may contribute. Some of these factors, such as a reduced likelihood to capture injuries or illnesses incurred late in the reporting cycle, appear within BLS’ ability to affect change. Others, however, remain beyond the jurisdiction of BLS, such as those related to OSHA recordkeeping.

For additional discussion of the first round projects and their results, see Examining the completeness of the occupational injury and illness data: an update on current research by William J. Wiatrowski, which appeared in the June 2014 edition of Monthly Labor Review. In addition, journal articles by BLS funded researchers on the three projects from round 1 will appear in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

The results and recommendations of this first phase of SOII research were used to guide the selection of further research in 2013 to improve the completeness and accuracy of estimates from the SOII. Research topics include:

  • Interviews with a large sample of employers in several States to obtain statistically significant results on various recordkeeping practices. Results are expected in 2014.
  • Matching of twelve years’ worth of SOII data to workers’ compensation records to analyze any undercount trends over time in one State. Results are expected in 2014.
  • Expanding the use of automated coding techniques in SOII production processes to improve coding consistency and quality.

How many Hispanic or Latino workers have been fatally injured on the job?

In 2013, 797 Hispanic or Latino workers were fatally injured while at work according to preliminary data. This figure represents a 7 percent increase from the 748 fatal injuries reported in the final 2012 data. Fatal injuries incurred by Hispanic or Latino workers accounted for 18 percent of the 4,405 total fatal work injuries that occurred in the U.S. in 2013. Hispanic or Latino workers had a preliminary fatal work injury rate of 3.8 fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers in 2013 compared with the preliminary all worker fatal work injury rate of 3.2 fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers. More information on fatal occupational injuries incurred by Hispanic or Latino workers can be found here.

In 2013, foreign-born Hispanic or Latino workers accounted for 527 fatal work injuries, or 66 percent, of the fatal work injuries to Hispanic or Latino workers according to preliminary data. More information on fatal occupational injuries incurred by foreign-born Hispanic or Latino workers can be found here.

Which occupations have high fatal work injury rates?

The latest data on fatal work injury rates can be found here: Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) - Current and Revised Data. Note that occupations with the highest number of fatal work injuries do not necessarily have high fatal work injury rates.

How can I evaluate our safety record?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides incidence rates by industry, by establishment size, and for many different case types. You can use incidence rates to evaluate your injury and illness experience by comparing it to the national averages for similar types of organizations. The guide How to compute your firm's incidence rate shows you how to effectively use BLS data. You can access all of the BLS workplace injury and illness data by going to the Injury, Illness, and Fatalities home page.

How widespread is violence in the workplace? Homicides?

Workplace violence —including assaults and suicides— accounted for 17 percent of all work-related fatal occupational injuries in 2013 (see Slide 3 of the 2013 CFOI Chart Package) according to preliminary data. In their article Work-related Homicides: The Facts, Eric Sygnatur and Guy Toscano note that, "Contrary to popular belief, the majority of these incidents are not crimes of passion committed by disgruntled coworkers and spouses, but rather result from robberies." See this table for the latest data on workplace homicides.

In 2012, there were 12,410 non-fatal cases of intentional injury by other persons which required days away from work in private industry; however, this accounted for just 1 percent of all non-fatal injuries and illnesses in private industry (see Table R31.)

Where can I find another company's injury rate?

This type of information is not available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because BLS ensures a pledge of confidentiality with all survey participants, we cannot share any confidential information, including any identification or injury rate. For information on establishments that may have been cited for workplace violations or for other regulatory guidelines, you should contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or call (202) 693-1999 (OSHA Office of Public Affairs). Almost all establishments must maintain an annual log of workplace injuries and illnesses, as mandated by OSHA. It is a requirement that employers post a summary of injuries and illnesses at the beginning of the year for incidents that occurred during the previous year for employee access. Also, upon request, employers may be required to share certain information with employees, but this is something that you should address with your company or with OSHA.

What kind of ergonomics numbers exist?

"Ergonomics" is a general term that has different meanings to different audiences. Most often, this term is applied to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The U. S. Department of Labor defines an MSD as an injury or disorder of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs. MSDs do not include disorders caused by slips, trips, falls, motor vehicle accidents, or similar accidents. The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes detailed characteristics for MSD cases that resulted in at least one lost day from work.

How do I compute injury rates for time periods of less than a year?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics produces annual rates, only, based on annual data, so any comparison may be inexact. As indicated in the guide, How to compute your firm's incidence rate, the basic formula is:

(Number of injuries and illnesses X 200,000) / Employee hours worked = Incidence rate

where the 200,000 hours in the formula represent the equivalent of 100 employees working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year.

One could compute a partial year incidence rate by dividing the number of cases by the hours worked for a certain period, and then multiplying the result by the part of 200,000 (the 12-month constant) represented by that certain period. For a single month, you would use 16,667. This approach, however, assumes that your injury and illness experience grows at a constant rate for the year. The alternative is to not adjust the constant (leave it at 200,000), and this assumes that you will not experience any additional injuries or illnesses. Both assumptions may not be too realistic.

How can I compare my firm's injury and illness experience to others?

Incidence rates by industry, by establishment size, and for many different case types are available from BLS. Using incidence rates allows a firm to evaluate its injury and illness experience and compare its experience to other firms doing the same type of work and of the same employment size group. A guide that describes how to compute your firm's incidence rate is available.

I am a safety specialist interested in the types of injuries and illnesses that are occurring in my industry. I would like to know which employees are most likely to be injured, and what events are causing most of the injuries and illnesses. Do you have data that can help me?

Yes. Both the case and demographic data from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses and the fatal injury data available from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries provide this information. Access to these data is provided from the Data section of our Safety and Health Statistics home page.

What information do the survey data provide about workers who are injured?

The age, sex, occupation, race, and length of service with employer are the attributes of the worker collected for days away from work cases.  For the Nation and for participating States, distributions of days away from work cases by the various categories comprising each worker characteristic can be developed. From those distributions, important worker groups can be identified and separate injury and illness profiles developed. For example, separate profiles for women, older workers, and nursing occupations can be developed.

One analytical approach to identifying relatively hazardous jobs will be to compare a job's share of total employment to its share of total days away from work cases. This employment-injury comparison also can be useful at the State level, although usually at a higher level of occupational aggregation. The Bureau's annual bulletin Geographic Profiles provides figures on women employed in farming, forestry, and fishery occupations which can be compared to OSH State data for the same workers. Access to these data is provided from the Data section of our Safety and Health Statistics home page.

What information do the survey data provide about the injuries that have occurred?

Physical condition (nature), part of the body affected, source, and event/exposure will be the principal case characteristics gleaned from employers' descriptions about the circumstances surrounding the incidents.  The principal case characteristics and their categories can be presented in separate tabulations for the Nation and for participating States.

Frequency distributions and incidence rates for most case characteristic categories can be generated. These incidence rates tell us, for example, how frequently disabling falls occur in the construction industry of various States. With this information, a State with a relatively high rate of such falls might devote more resources to the study of how employers and employees are dealing with this particular hazard and offer advice on working under adverse weather conditions or the use of safety gear. Access to these data is provided from the Data section of our Safety and Health Statistics home page.

Who uses these data?

Employers and employees, policymakers, safety standards writers, safety inspectors, health and safety consultants, and researchers are some of the most frequent users of survey data.

Employers and employees need definitive statistics on what kinds of serious injuries and illnesses occur to others whose work and workforce size are similar to theirs. BLS Safety and Health data permit employers to learn about the circumstances surrounding those incidents so that they can disarm potential hazards where they work.

Policymakers need to know how the safety and health of workers in their State compares to workers in other States doing comparable work. The survey helps these managers determine the additional need for State safety and health programs.

Safety standards writers need to know the factors surrounding injuries and illnesses that their standards were meant to prevent. Do those standards need revision, or just better enforcement? Are new standards needed for uncovered incidents? The survey supplemented by special studies can help answer important questions of this type.

Safety inspectors need to know how best to allocate their time among and within establishments. By targeting where injuries and illnesses most frequently occur and their characteristics, survey data help in selecting which firms to visit and what hazards to look for. These visits are also opportunities for inspector and employer to consult on ways to eliminate work hazards.

Safety and health consultants need to understand job hazards fully to develop effective training packages and educational materials for employers and their employees. The survey collects information on work activity that will help consultants piece together what precipitated an accident or exposure. Special studies of work hazards can provide additional assistance.

Researchers need to direct their limited resources at widespread problems, such as the proper manual lifting techniques and the best designs for tools and safety gear. They find survey data useful in focusing on those work hazards.

How many musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) cases involved health care patient handling?

In 2012, there were 35,230 occupational musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) cases in private industry where the source of injury or illness was a health care patient. This accounted for 11 percent of the 314,470 total cases of MSDs that resulted in a least one lost day from work in 2012. Almost all (99 percent) of the cases involving patient handling occurred within the health care and social assistance industry, composing 49 percent of the 71,010 total MSD cases in that industry.

For MSD cases involving patient handling, almost all (99 percent) were the result of overexertion involving outside sources. Sprain, strain, or tear was the type of injury incurred in 81 percent of the MSD cases involving patient handling.

Nursing assistants incurred occupational injuries or illnesses in 43 percent of the MSD cases involving health care patients. Registered nurses accounted for 19 percent and personal care aides for another 7 percent. Other occupations with MSD cases involving health care patients (with 400 or more cases) included home health aides; emergency medical technicians and paramedics; licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses; radiologic technologists; healthcare support workers; medical and clinical laboratory technicians; and orderlies.

 

Last Modified Date: September 11, 2014