Article

October 2013

Using workplace safety and health data for injury prevention

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·         Major tears of muscles, tendons, or ligaments, including Achilles tendon tears and torn rotator cuffs

·         Sprains including minor or medium-grade tears and pulls to ligaments and joints

·         Strains including minor or medium-grade tears and pulls to muscles and tendons

Table 3 provides details on these injuries among workers in private industry in 2011.

Table 3. Nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work, by nature of injury, private industry, 2011
Nature of injuryNumberPercent of totalTypical parts of body affected

Total

908,310100.0

Sprains, strains, and tears

340,87037.5

Sprains

84,5609.3Ankle, knee

Strains

209,74023.1Back, shoulder

Major tears to muscles, tendons, or ligaments

17,1501.9Shoulder, knee

Multiple strains, sprains, and tears

7,130.8

Sprains, strains, and tears, unspecified

22,2902.5

Source:  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Severity of injury

Workplace injuries vary widely in severity; in fact, the least severe ones—those requiring only first aid or no treatment at all—are not recorded by employers on the OSHA logs and therefore not included in BLS statistics. For injuries that are identified by OSHA and tabulated by BLS, the continuum of severity can be described as follows:

·         Medical treatment beyond first aid, with no time away from work or restricted activities

·         Job transfer or restriction

·         Days away from work

·         Fatality, which may be further divided into immediate or delayed, often resulting from complications

Differences in BLS data on fatal and nonfatal injuries, along with differences in data collection methods and scopes of employment, make it difficult to combine the data. The sheer magnitude of these incidents (about 4,700 fatal work injuries and about 3.8 million nonfatal work injuries and illnesses in 2011) is such that the fatalities are dwarfed by the nonfatal cases. In fact, the rate of nonfatal work injuries (3.8 per 100 full-time workers) is nearly 1,000 times greater than the rate of fatal work injuries. Despite these differences, using data on fatal and nonfatal injuries together allows a first look at a potential continuum of severity. Table 4 provides estimates of the share of security guard injuries by severity for 2009.6 (Note that less than one-half of 1 percent of cases results in a fatality.)

Table 4. Share of security guard injuries, by severity, 2009
SeverityPercent of total cases

Medical treatment beyond first aid

47.5

1 or more days of job transfer or restriction

12.4

1 day away from work

5.0

2 days away from work

5.4

3–5 days away from work

8.0

6–10 days away from work

4.6

11–20 days away from work

4.7

21–30 days away from work

2.5

31 or more days away from work

9.9

Fatality occurring 1 or more days later

.1

Fatality occurring immediately

.2

Note:  Data on medical treatment and days of job transfer or restriction represent workers in the guard services industry; other data represent workers in the security guard occupation. Calculations assume that the proportion of cases by severity is the same for workers in the guard services industry and the security guard occupation.

Source:  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Data are not yet available to present this type of continuum of severity for many characteristics, such as worker age. Currently, such details are only available for fatalities and nonfatal cases that result in days away from work. (Some examples of these details by worker age are discussed below.) However, BLS is in the process of expanding the available data for another large component of nonfatal cases—worker injuries or illnesses that result in job transfer or restriction. These new data, currently available for only a limited number of industries, provide added information on recovery time, although one could debate whether more days of job transfer or restricted work indicate a higher or lower injury severity than do fewer days away from work. (See figure 4 for an example focusing on the food manufacturing industry.) The two sets of data simply add to the amount of detail available for prevention, and BLS hopes to expand upon these data in the future.

For cases with days away from work, details include a distribution by range of days, which can illustrate which events, natures, or other characteristics are most severe in terms of recovery time. Further, data are available on the median days away from work by worker characteristic, providing a benchmark for comparison. These data can be used in tandem to identify particular characteristics of incidents where the median days may not be alarming, but where a large proportion of cases have long durations. For example, in 2011, two occupations—sales managers and hand grinding and polishing workers—each had the same median days away from work—8 days; however, only 11 percent of sales managers were away from work for 30 days or more, compared with 30 percent of grinders.

Notes

6  The information on the outcomes of workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities comes from different sources that do not have consistent scope or detail. The data on workers who receive medical treatment and days of job transfer or restriction represent workers in the guard services industry; other data represent workers in the security guard occupation. Calculations assume that the proportion of cases by severity is the same for workers in the guard services industry and the security guard occupation. Additional details about the development of the continuum of severity and its limitations are available in William J. Wiatrowski, “On guard against workplace hazards,” Monthly Labor Review, February 2012, pp. 3–11, http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/02/art1full.pdf.

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About the Author

William J. Wiatrowski
wiatrowski.william@bls.gov

William J. Wiatrowski is an economist in the Office of Compensation and Working Conditions, Bureau of Labor Statistics.