Report: National Injury Stats May Underestimate Construction Injuries

A report from The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) suggests that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) occupational injury and illness data may underestimate the actual number of construction injuries that occur, particularly among smaller construction establishments.

The report, “Injury Underreporting Among Small Establishments in the Construction Industry,” published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, points out that BLS data does not include the self-employed or federal workers, who constitute approximately one-fourth of the nation’s construction work force. OSHA recordkeeping changes in 2001 and 1995 also may have contributed to the decreasing injury statistics in the construction industry. Finally, small construction establishments are more likely to underreport injuries (or not report injuries at all).

“Given the large proportion of small establishments in the construction industry, and the severity of the underreporting problem among such establishments as suggested by the existing research, it is essential to explore underreporting among small construction establishments and estimate the extent of the problem in the construction industry,” the report states.

The study authors, led by Xiuwen S. Dong, DrPH, anticipated that injury underreporting would be more common at small construction firms of 10 or fewer employees, and that Hispanic workers would represent higher levels of underreporting. Researchers examined injury data spanning 15 years from five sources and determined that smaller construction establishments indeed seemed more likely to underreport injuries.

Some of the findings include:

· Small establishments employ about 45 percent of Hispanic workers, but only about 8-16 percent of injuries among Hispanic construction workers at these small firms were reported.
· In contrast, 36 percent of white, non-Hispanic workers are employed by small construction establishments, with 21-25 percent of injuries reported.
· BLS data only represents approximately 25 percent of the injuries incurred by Hispanic construction workers employed by small establishments.
· An estimated 42,000 injuries resulting in days away from work in small construction establishments go unreported each year.

The authors suggested that “OSHA should focus more of its efforts on small construction employers” and offer them the necessary resources and guidance to better protect their workers. The authors also stated that employment standards should be expanded to include and record injuries for nontraditional employment, including independent contractors.

“Data accuracy is extremely important for occupational safety and health surveillance, and this is especially true for an industry with an extremely mobile workforce like construction,” the authors noted. “Accurate data are essential to implement new data collection initiatives to track the safety and health impacts of emerging technologies, identify the most effective and efficient intervention programs and support the development and diffusion of those programs throughout the industry. In addition, accurate data provides the basis for policy-making and resource distribution.”

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