BLS: Workplace Injury and Illness Rates Continue to Decrease

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By Bruce Rolfsen

Oct. 27 — Workers in private industries were less likely to suffer job-related injuries or illnesses last year following a 13-year trend of declines, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures released Oct. 27.

However, the injury and illness rate for state and local government workers increased in 2015, the BLS found.

The recordable rate for private industry workers in 2015 was 3.0 recordable cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers, compared with 3.2 in 2014, according to the BLS’s Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII).

The rate for state and local government workers increased slightly, from 5.0 in 2014 to 5.1 in 2015. The BLS doesn’t calculate data covering the federal workforce.

When the rates for private and government employers were combined, the likelihood of American workers becoming injured or ill on the job declined slightly in 2015, dropping to 3.3 recordable cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers, down from the 2014 rate of 3.4, the BLS said.

In terms of the total number of cases, the BLS estimated in 2015 there were 3.66 million injury and illness cases, down from the 3.68 million cases calculated for 2014.

The BLS numbers are based on confidential reports submitted by about 240,000 employers to the agency. The collected information is similar to the data the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires many employers to keep on injuries and illnesses requiring medical treatment beyond first aid.

Accuracy Issues

“If it’s a real decrease in injuries, it’s welcome news,” Peg Seminario, safety and health director for the AFL-CIO, told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 27. “However, we continue to be very concerned about the accuracy and completeness of the report.”

Some of the data indicate there are reasons to be concerned, Seminario said.

For example, Seminario said, the reported injury rate for oil and gas extraction was 0.7 compared to the national private sector average of 3.0. At the same time BLS fatality data from 2014 showed the oil and gas industry had a fatality rate—15.6 deaths for every 100,000 full-time equivalent employees—more than four times the average for all industries.

“It’s difficult to believe the reported non-fatal injury rates, when in some cases they bear no relation to what we see regarding workplace fatalities from injuries,” Seminario said.

Seminario is among the members of a National Academies of Sciences panel, sponsored by the BLS and OSHA, expected to make recommendations in 2017 on improvements to collecting injury and illness data.

Private Sector Results

Among large private employer industry categories, transportation and warehousing continued to have the highest rate—4.5, down from 4.8 in 2014.

The rate for construction declined slightly to 3.5. Within the construction category, specialty trade contractors, a group that includes roofing companies, had the highest rate of 3.7. Heavy construction had the lowest rate with a 2.8.

The rates in 2015, and 2014 in parentheses, for large industry groups were:

  •  transportation, warehousing: 4.5 (4.8 in 2014)
  •  health care, social assistance: 4.3 (4.5)
  •  leisure, hospitality: 4.1 (3.6)
  •  manufacturing: 3.8 (4.0)
  •  natural resources, mining: 3.7 (3.8)
  •  retail trade: 3.5 (3.6)
  •  construction: 3.5 (3.6)
  •  wholesale trade: 3.1 (2.9)
  •  utilities: 2.2 (2.4)
  •  educational services: 2.1 (2.1)
  •   professional/business services: 1.4 (1.5)
  •   information/media: 1.3 (1.4)
  •  financial activities: 1.1 (1.2)
Among the private sector groups with rates of 5.0 or more were:
  •  couriers, messengers: 6.9 (7.1 in 2014)
  •   animal production: 6.9 (7.1)
  •   nursing, residential care: 6.8 (7.1)
  •   wood product manufacturing: 6.3 (6.8)
  •  air transportation: 6.2 (7.5)
  •   hospitals: 6.0 (6.2)
  •  crop production: 5.7 (5.5)
  •  performing arts, sports: 5.5 (4.7)
  •   beverage, tobacco product manufacturing: 5.3 (6.0)
  •   primary metal manufacturing: 5.1 (5.2)
  •   warehousing, storage: 5.0 (5.2)

Government Workers Beware

In 2015 as in past years, public-sector workers had higher rates than their privately employed counterparts.

Among the widest gaps was with health-care workers. Employees at state-operated nursing and residential care facilities had a rate of 12.6 while the private industry rate was 6.8.

The public sector groups with the highest rates were:

  •   state-run nursing, residential care facilities: 12.6 (12.6 in 2014)
  •   local justice, safety activities: 9.5 (9.5)
  •   state-run hospitals: 8.1 (8.7)
  •  local government heavy, civil engineering construction: 8.0 (8.6)
  •  local government transportation, warehousing: 7.6 (7.5)
  •  local government nursing, residential care facilities: 7.2 (7.4)
  •  local government utilities: 6.2 (5.4)
In November, the BLS will release additional information on the how injuries and illnesses occurred and worker demographics. Fatality numbers for 2015 will be issued in December.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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