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Musculoskeletal Injuries Increase 4 Percent As Overall Injury/Illness Rate Remains Stable

Thursday, November 15, 2012

While the overall rate of workers in 2011 missing at least one day at their jobs due to injury or illness--117 cases for every 10,000 employees--was essentially the same as in 2010, the number of musculoskeletal injury cases increased, according to a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Nov. 8.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) accounted for 33 percent of all workplace injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work in 2011, up from 29 percent in 2010, according to BLS. The 2011 incident rate for the ergonomic-related cases grew to 39 cases for every 10,000 workers, compared with 34 cases per 10,000 in 2010 (41 OSHR 981, 11/17/11).

The factors that went into calculating the 2011 MSD rate differed from what was used for the 2010 report, a BLS economist told BNA Nov. 12. Therefore, the agency cannot determine how much of the difference was a result of an actual increase in MSDs or a change to the classification system, he said.

For injuries and illnesses of all types in 2011, the report said, 1.18 million resulted in a worker missing one or more days of work or being assigned another task while recuperating, down from 2010's 1.19 million. The median days missed by employees was eight, the same as 2010.

Reasons Not Addressed

The report did not address what caused rates to change or remain the same.

The workplace information was released Nov. 8 in the BLS report, Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away from Work, 2011. The study and a related online database break out injury and illness data by occupation, industry, injury, and worker demographics.

The information came from BLS's annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, drawn from confidential questionnaires turned in by more than 250,000 establishments. From the employers' responses and other information, such as the number of workers in an industry, the BLS calculated the injury and illness numbers.

Data Accuracy Debated

The accuracy of the employer information submitted to BLS is widely debated, and studies have estimated 30 to 60 percent of cases go unreported for a variety of reasons, including illnesses detected after questionnaires were completed, confusion about what cases should be reported or how to classify them, and incentives for workers not to report injuries (41 OSHR 997, 11/17/11; see related story).

The report is a companion to BLS's Oct. 25 Workplace Injuries and Illnesses, 2011 study that released data on all workplace cases, even incidents that did not result in an employee missing a day from work (42 OSHR 963, 11/1/12).

Private Sector

The overall private sector incidence rate was 105.2 cases per 10,000 workers, down from the prior year's 107.7. The rates for large private industry groups were:

• transportation and warehousing, 226.1 (232.0 in 2010),

• construction, 147.4 (149.6),

• health care, 136.1 (139.9),

• manufacturing, 111.8 (111.7), and

• mining, 92.4 (102.1).

Public Sector

In the public sector, rates were higher across the board than their private-sector counterparts. The incidence rate for state workers was 183.4 cases for every 10,000 employees, up from 2010's 175.1. Local governments' rate was 192.7, up from the prior year's 178.8.

The public sector services with high incidence rates were:

• local safety and justice, 474.5 (404.9 in 2010),

• local transportation and warehousing, 395.0 (365.7),

• state health care, 365.7 (409.4), and

• local construction, 302.3 (not listed in 2010).

High-Rate Occupations

Among all employers, occupations with highest incidence rates for 10,000 workers were:

• bus drivers, 746.3 (614.6 in 2010),

• police and sheriff's patrol officers, 596.3 (504.3),

• correctional officers and jailers, 543.7 (383.5),

• firefighters, 475.2 (400.9),

• nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants, 444.0 (489.4),

• emergency medical technicians and paramedics, 381.3 (416.0),

• highway maintenance workers, 380.7 (383.9),

• light truck/delivery drivers, 368.3 (384.2),

• laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, 367.4 (430.4),

• heavy and tractor/trailer truck drivers, 318.9 (318.5),

• food preparation workers, 312.3 (214.7), and

• construction laborers, 312.3 (316.6).

BLS cautioned that because of reporting changes in the 2011 survey, the injury and illness rates for occupations in 2011 and 2010 are not completely comparable, because some occupations were classified differently in 2011.

Causes

As for the immediate cause of an injury, the category “overexertion and bodily reaction” had the highest incidence rate, 41.3 cases for every 10,000 workers. Other causes in double digits were falls, slips, and trips, 29.7; and contact with objects or equipment, 26.9.

The most frequently reported injuries were sprains, strains, and tears, 44.4 cases for every 10,000 workers; soreness and pain, 14.5; bruises and contusions, 10.2; cuts, lacerations and punctures, 9.6; and fractures, 9.1.

By Bruce Rolfsen  


A summary of the findings for 2011 is available at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/osh2.pdf.

A summary of the 2010 findings is available at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/osh2_11092011.pdf.

A searchable database for the 2011 results is available at http://data.bls.gov/pdq/querytool.jsp?survey=cs.

A searchable database for years 2003-2010 is available at http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/dsrv?ii.