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April 1996, Vol. 119, No. 4
Katharine G. Abraham, William L. Weber, and Martin E. Personick
No one us immune from becoming disabled or dying of work-related injuries, but the risk can vary by the personal traits of the worker and the work being done. Until recently, there was no complete and credible information on the workers most at risk or on the risks themselves. Three years ago, however, the Bureau of Labor Statistics redesigned its long-standing safety and health survey to help identify industries, occupations, and worker groups in the private sector that have relatively high risks of serious, nonfatal injury or illness resulting in lost worktime and to zero in on how those incidents occurred and their severity.1 In addition, a separate census that systematically counts all fatal work injuries using multiple data sources to identify, verify, and profile such tragic incidents replaces the previous fatality estimates.
This article describes improvements in the Bureau's statistical system and illustrates how the new data, and measures based upon them, can help those striving for safer, healthier workplaces.
The year 1995 marked the 25th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, a landmark piece of Federal legislation that mandated several safety and health initiatives in the workplace, including a nationwide data base for occupational fatalities, work-related illnesses, and nonfatal occupational injuries that require more than first aid treatment.2 With the passage of the 1970 act, the Bureau was delegated responsibilities for collecting, compiling, analyzing, and publishing such safety and health statistics. To meet its mandate, the Bureau developed a survey that measured the frequency of reported injuries and illnesses in various work settings, enabling analysts to identify industries with comparatively high rates of such work-related incidents. This survey information has been available from 1972 forward, and continues to be of value in allocating prevention resources among several hundred industries, across which workers' risks of injury and illness vary widely.
As originally designed, however, the survey had its shortcomings. Although it pinpointed dangerous work settings, the survey shed little light on the characteristics of injury or illness incidents, for example, the nature of the injury or illness, how it happened, and what job was involved. The survey also failed to produce a comprehensive count of workers dying on the job and the circumstances surrounding their deaths. These shortcomings did not go unnoticed in the safety and health community. Data from State workers' compensation systems, in fact, helped fill a portion of these information gaps; but the State systems have some important statistical limits, for instance, their varying definitions of industries, workers, and cases covered, which make cross-State comparisons difficult and a national aggregation of State data even more problematic.3
This excerpt is from an article published in the April 1996 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 For a detailed account of how the survey was expanded and descriptions and definitions of the new survey elements, see Occupational Injurties and Illnesses: Counts, Rates, and Characteristics, 1992, Bulletin 2455 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1995), Appendixes A through F.
2 Prior to the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Bureau of Labor Statistics had conducted annual surveys for which employers volunteered to provide data on injuries involving lost worktime. The 1970 Act substantially broadened the coverage of work-related incidents and set up a mandatory requirement of employers covered by the Act to keep detailed records of such incidents and to participate, when selected, in the Bureau's Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. Section 8(c)(2) of the 1970 Occupational and Safety and Health Act (Public law 91-596) requires employers to make periodic reports of deaths, injuries, and illnesses which have been recorded in appropriate recordkeeping logs.
3 In 1976, BLS implemented a Federal-State cooperative program - the Supplementary Data System - to capturea number of data elements, such as worker and case characteristics, from about three dozen participating States. For description of that System, see the BLS Handbook of Methods, Bulletin 2414 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1992), chapter 14.
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