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Occupational injury and illness rates: why they fell
November 1998, Vol. 121, No. 11
Hugh Conway and Jens Svenson
Between 1992 and 1996, the rate of reported occupational injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time workers declined from 8.9 to 7.4. Following passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in the early 1970s, the rate had declined from 11.0 in 1973 to 7.6 in 1983. Thereafter, the rate increased for the most part, reaching 8.9 in 1992. Then, beginning in 1993 and every year following, it fell. (See table 1.) Because the occupational injury and illness rate is such an important measure of employee well-being, the causes of the latter decline are of considerable interest. This article identifies the factors that have contributed to the rate decline and assesses their importance regarding future changes in the rate. Of particular interest is whether the decline will continue, flatten, or reverse itself and conform to a cyclical pattern.
The recent decrease is especially dramatic in light of the expected pattern of increased injuries and illnesses during economic expansions. The temporary drop in the rates in the early 1980s has been attributed to the concurrent effects of the recession. For example, Peter Dorman concludes that
there is clearly a "cyclical" component to safety: it rises during periods of economic hardship, and falls during periods of growth. This may be due either to the speedup in the pace of work when orders pile up (this is implicit in Okuns law, according to which fluctuations in output exceed fluctuations in employment), or to the influx of new, inexperienced workers when hiring expands.1
This excerpt is from an article published in the November 1998 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 Peter Dorman, Markets and Mortality (Cambridge, U.K., Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 15.
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