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Cause to Celebrate: Workplace Injuries Continue to Decline

Nov. 30, 2018
Employers in 2017 had 2.8 recordable cases per 100 workers – less than half the number in 2003.

If you want some good news to celebrate for a change, we’ve got it for you: Government data shows that recordable injuries and illnesses in the private sector continued their drop in 2017, with 45,800 fewer cases among adult full-time equivalent (FTE) employees than there were in 2016.

What’s more, the data also shows that steady improvement in injury rates has been made in all industry sectors over the past 14 years, according to a recent report released by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

These numbers are impressive. But what is surprising is that they have not garnered more attention from the news media. The only article I’ve seen to date appeared in an engineering trade journal. It seems the old cliché that good news is no news continues to be true in the United States. That doesn’t mean that we can’t take some satisfaction in these numbers, even while we keep in mind that the ultimate goal should always be zero accidents in any workplace.

“All measures—including missed workdays, OSHA recordable incidents, injury-caused work restrictions—have declined steadily this century,” notes Courtney M. Malveaux, an attorney with the law firm of Jackson Lewis.

“Employers had 2.8 total recordable cases per 100 workers, barely half the number reported in 2003. Importantly, all sectors surveyed showed a decrease, including manufacturing, construction, healthcare, transportation and warehousing. That means fewer days missed, fewer injuries and fewer workers’ compensation claims,” he adds.

Looking at the 2017 numbers we find:

● The 2017 rate of total recordable cases (TRC) fell 0.1 cases per 100 FTE workers to continue a pattern of declines that, apart from 2012, has occurred annually since 2004.

● The rates for different types of cases—days away from work (DAFW), days of job transfer or restriction only (DJTR) and other recordable cases (ORC)—were unchanged from a year earlier.

● The rate for DJTR cases has remained at 0.7 cases per 100 workers since 2011.

● Nearly one-third of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses resulted in days away from work.

● Among the 19 private industry sectors, only manufacturing, finance and insurance experienced statistically significant changes in their overall rates of nonfatal injuries and illnesses in 2017—each declined by 0.1 cases per 100 full-time workers compared to 2016.

Manufacturing Does Well

Manufacturing was No. 2 on the BLS list of injuries reported, with employers in that sector experiencing a total of 426,900 recordable non-fatal injuries and illnesses in 2017.

Another important measurement used by BLS shows there were a grand total of 882,730 occupational injuries and illnesses in 2017 that resulted in days away from work (DFAW) in private industry, essentially unchanged from 2016 at 93 cases per 10,000 full-time workers.

This difference between the total number of injuries and DAFW also was reflected in manufacturing. While the incidence rate of total recordable cases in manufacturing decreased in 2017, there were 115,550 DAFW cases in the sector, which was essentially unchanged from 2016.

Sprains, strains and tears was the leading type of injury in manufacturing at 34,110, unchanged from 2016, BLS reported. The rate of 27.5 cases per 10,000 full-time workers was also unchanged from 2016. The median days away for injuries from sprains, strains and tears was 10, one day fewer than in 2016.

“The manufacturing sector had particularly good news, with median days away from work dropping to eight, a day fewer than in 2016,” Malveaux points out. “An area where manufacturers can focus is its leading cause of injury—sprains, strains and tears—which did not see a decrease in the past year.”

BLS reports that four minor level occupation groups accounted for 67% of DAFW cases in 2017, including other production workers at 30,210 cases; metal and plastic workers at 19,610 cases; and material moving workers at 15,260 cases. The fourth group among these—assemblers and fabricators—was the only one with a decrease, down 900 DAFW cases in 2017 to 12,140.

The Most Prevalent Injuries

When it came to the type of injuries that accounted for these numbers, the number of DAFW cases involving overexertion in lifting or lowering rose by 3,250 cases to 97,990 in 2017, while the rate was unchanged at 9.9 cases per 10,000 full-time workers. The number of DAFW cases involving workers struck by objects or equipment fell 4,180 cases to 136,510 in 2017 and the rate decreased to 13.8 cases per 10,000 full-time workers, down from 14.5 in 2016.

The number of DAFW cases in manufacturing where the event or exposure was overexertion and bodily reaction fell by 1,690 cases to 40,680 in 2017. The rate decreased to 32.7 cases per 10,000 full-time workers from 34.1 in 2016.

Musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 34% of the DAFW cases in manufacturing and fell 1,930 cases to 38,950 in 2017. The rate was 31.4 cases per 10,000 full-time workers, down from 32.9 in 2016. The median days away from work was 12, two days fewer than in 2016.

For the construction industry, the 2017 results of a total of 198,100 cases marks its third straight year-over-year decline in injuries and illnesses, after a 1.9% increase in 2015. In addition, the BLS numbers reveal that the 2017 nonfatal injury rate per 100 full-time workers also edged down, to 3.1 per 100 full-time workers, a decline from 3.2 in 2016. That number has steadily improved in recent years from 3.6 in 2014, to 3.5 in 2015 and 3.2 in 2016.

In the warehousing and transportation sector, the 2017 total was 215,700 cases, with the number of DAFW cases rising by 2,930 cases to 17,390 in 2017. The incidence rate (182.4 cases per 10,000 full-time workers) in 2017 was essentially unchanged from 2016. DAFW cases resulting from overexertion and bodily reaction rose 1,350 cases to 8,310 in 2017; contact with objects and equipment rose 620 cases to 4,370; and falls, slips, or trips rose 480 cases to 3,030.

Lumping mining, quarrying, and oil & gas extraction into a single category, BLS reported a total of 10,200 injury and illness cases in 2017 for that capacious category.

We will provide additional analysis and information after BLS releases its fatal injury and illness data this December.

About the Author

David Sparkman | founding editor

David Sparkman is founding editor of ACWI Advance, the newsletter of the American Chain of Warehouses Inc., as well as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Material Handling & Logistics, a sister publication to IndustryWeek.

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