October 2013

Using workplace safety and health data for injury prevention


Among all private industry employers, the rate of nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2011 was 3.5 per 100 full-time equivalent workers. Industry data show a wide variation in rates across employers, including a rate of 5.0 among health care and social assistance employers and a rate of 1.4 in establishments engaged in financial activities. (See figure 2.) Likewise, rates vary by state, often as a function of the industry mix within a state.

Although knowing an industry’s overall injury and illness rate is important, understanding the frequency of particular events or the particular natures of injury (that is, the principal physical characteristics or symptoms of an injury or illness) may be equally useful in assessing prevention needs. A couple of examples will illustrate the available data and how these data can be used.

An example of an event leading to both fatal and nonfatal work injuries is an incident in the category of falls, slips, and trips (henceforth referred to simply as falls). In 2011, BLS recorded 681 fatal falls and 300,000 nonfatal falls that required at least 1 day away from work. Before 2011, falls were classified on the basis of what the worker fell from and included falls from ladder, falls from roof, and falls from nonmoving vehicles. (Note that falls from moving vehicles are considered transportation incidents, not falls.) A separate coding of the “source” directly responsible for the injury would previously record what the worker hit when falling (most often the floor or ground). The 2011 revisions to the classification system changed this coding substantially. Event coding no longer indicates what the worker fell from; rather, it identifies the level of the fall (e.g., fall to lower level, fall on same level, or fall up stairs) as well as the height of the fall (e.g., less than 6 feet or greater than 30 feet). Further, coding of the source of injury now indicates what the worker fell from (e.g., a ladder or a scaffold) and any contributing factors, such as wind or ice. Table 2 identifies differences in coding of falls between 2010 and 2011.

Table 2. Changes to coding of falls
Coding before 2011Coding in 2011 and beyond
Event or exposure
Fall on same level
Fall to lower level   
  Down stairs   
  From ladder   
  From roof   
  From scaffold
Fall on same level
Fall to lower level
  Details about height (fell from x feet)
Fall from collapsing structure
Fall through surface
Source of injury
What caused the injury (e.g., floor or ground)What the worker fell from (e.g., ladder, roof, or scaffold)
Secondary source of injury (contributing factor)
Not codedIce, wind, or other factors

Source:  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The new coding identified previously unknown characteristics of falls. Consistent with past data, a greater proportion of fatal falls occurred from heights, while a greater proportion of nonfatal falls occurred on the same or a lower level. Further, among fatal falls from heights, 1 in 10 occurred from heights less than 6 feet, while another 2 in 10 occurred from heights greater than 30 feet. Figure 3 shows the proportion of fatal and nonfatal falls by fall level in 2011.

Another area in which frequency data might be useful in focusing prevention activities is the nature of injury. BLS identifies the nature of injury for both fatal and nonfatal cases. For fatal cases, the nature of injury often includes intracranial injuries, injuries to internal organs, or multiple traumatic injuries and disorders; for nonfatal cases, the nature of injury varies widely. Employers might want to compare the frequency of particular natures of nonfatal injuries—such as sprains, strains, and tears (which represent nearly 40 percent of all nonfatal cases) or cuts, lacerations, and punctures (which represent nearly 10 percent of all nonfatal cases)—to determine if their establishment has a disproportionate number of such occurrences. Because sprains, strains, and tears are such a large portion of nonfatal injuries, beginning in 2011, revisions to the coding of the nature of injury provide the following additional detail:

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About the Author

William J. Wiatrowski

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