Overall, the incidence of nonfatal illnesses and injuries in private industry workplaces has declined dramatically since the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began collecting information on these incidents in 1972. In that year, statistics show that nonfatal work injury and illness occurred at a rate of 10.9 cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers; after plummeting in the 1990s, the rate stands at 2.8 cases per 100 today.1 In recent years, the decline has plateaued: industry employers recorded 2.8 million injuries and illnesses in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Progress has still been made in the past decade, however, as evidenced by the report of 3.3 and 3.7 million incidents in 2009 and 2008, respectively.2
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the working conditions of people worldwide. While the BLS has not yet released work injury statistics in 2020, it plans to do so in the fall of 2021. These data, however, will be significantly impacted by the surveyors’ abilities to collect information amidst the pandemic, and the BLS has stated that specific COVID-19 related incidents will not be fully captured in the report.3
Among the employees who had to miss one or more days of work due to injury in 2019, one-third were employed across ten occupations. By far, the highest incidence rate for these cases was in the motor vehicle body and trailer manufacturing industry (6.3 cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers). Employees in the animal slaughtering/processing industry and those working in machine shops or for screw, nut, and bolt manufacturers had the next highest incident rates.2 It is important to note that significant risks are also associated with the construction industry, where accidents can have more severe consequences: one in five worker fatalities in the private industry are reported in construction.4
Overexertion and slips, trips, and falls each account for nearly one-third of workplace injuries.1 Slips and falls are especially common in older workers ages 55 and over, and highlight the need for the strictest protective measures around even basic matters, like footwear.5 Notably, the youngest workers (ages 16-19) had the highest risk of injuries and illness, most often due to contact with objects or equipment.6 These trends highlight the need for stringent but feasibly implemented workplace regulations that promote the safety of individuals working in risky environments. The adequate enforcement of and compliance with these measures is crucial as well.
Beyond the immediate health consequences of these injuries and illnesses, working conditions that put individuals at risk are also detrimental to industry more broadly. In 2019, there were 888,220 nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses that caused a worker to miss at least one day of work2; 2018 data shows that nearly one-third of nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the workplace required employees to miss work.7 This translates to significant reductions to overall productivity: direct costs can include medical treatments, wage time and disability settlements, and indirect costs can include loss of employee engagement, harmed reputation, training/hiring costs for new employees, legal fees, and product delays.8
In summary, increasingly meticulous research and data collection surrounding work injury and illness statistics has enabled the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to implement beneficial regulations to ensure worker safety.1 However, more information on the prevalence and consequences of workplace injuries is needed to truly respond to this issue. It has been repeatedly observed that many injuries are not documented in the recordkeeping logs required by OSHA, which are used to inform the annual BLS reports. A 2017 article in the Journal of Safety Research found that close to half of all facilities inspected between 2009 to 2012 incorrectly recorded or failed to record occupational injuries and illnesses. According to employee interviews, workers’ fears of reprisal were the most important factor contributing to the under-reporting. Truly ensuring workers’ safety requires close scrutiny of this issue as well.9
- Brown J. Nearly 50 years of occupational safety and health data. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Published July 17, 2020. https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-9/nearly-50-years-of-occupational-safety-and-health-data.htm
- Survey of occupational injuries and illnesses data. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Published October 9, 2020. https://www.bls.gov/iif/soii-data.htm/
- Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on Workplace Injuries and Illnesses, Compensation, Occupational Requirements, and work stoppages statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Published April 16, 2020. https://www.bls.gov/covid19/effects-of-covid-19-on-workplace-injuries-and-illnesses-compensation-and-occupational-requirements.htm
- Commonly used statistics. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. https://www.osha.gov/data/commonstats
- Shepard S. Three things that hurt compliance when it comes to protective footwear. Ohsonline.com. Published April 1, 2021. https://ohsonline.com/Articles/2021/04/01/Three-Things-That-Hurt-Compliance-When-it-Comes-to-Protective-Footwear.aspx?m=1&Page=1
- Reeve H, Stephens S, Pegula S, Farrell R. 25 years of Worker Injury, Illness, and fatality case data: Spotlight on statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Published March 5, 2019. https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2019/25-years-of-worker-injury-illness-and-fatality-case-data/home.htm
- Sparkman D. Cause to celebrate: Workplace injuries continue to decline. EHS Today. Published November 30, 2018. https://www.ehstoday.com/safety/article/21919904/cause-to-celebrate-workplace-injuries-continue-to-decline
- Barker R. Understanding the total cost of an injury. EHS Today. Published March 22, 2021. https://www.ehstoday.com/safety/article/21158959/understanding-the-total-cost-of-an-injury
- Fagan KM, Hodgson MJ. Under-recording of work-related injuries and illnesses: An OSHA priority. J Safety Res. 2017;60:79-83.