NSC Survey: American Workers' Safety Concerns Don't Reflect Reality

June 6, 2006
Accidental injury is the leading cause of death for people under 40 and the fifth-leading cause for all ages. But in a recent survey conducted on behalf of the National Safety Council (NSC), American workers ranked accidental injury No. 3 in terms of their top safety concerns following violent crime and natural disasters.

In the eyes of NSC, it's an example of the disconnect between American workers' perceptions about their greatest safety risks and reality.

The organization's "2006 American Worker Safety Survey" also found that more workers feel safer at home than they do at work. However, according to 2004 NSC statistics, twice as many workers or 6.8 million were seriously injured while off the job than were injured while working. And of the 49,000 injury-related deaths in 2004 involving workers, roughly 90 percent occurred while employees were off the job, according to NSC.

"Contrary to what most people believe, home is not the safe haven we think it is," NSC President and CEO Alan McMillan said. "With more than half of all accidental deaths occurring in homes and communities, we have a greater challenge protecting the public from injuries while off the job than in America's workplaces."

The Numbers Aren't Even Close

The survey of more than 400 American workers was conducted for NSC's June National Safety Month observance by Atlanta-based Infosurv, a market research firm specializing in employee and customer surveys.

Asked to put unintentional injuries in perspective with other safety issues, natural disasters and violent crimes tied with 59 percent of the respondents saying they were equally concerned about each of those threats. Unintentional injuries followed with 55 percent, and concerns about terrorism ranked fourth at 52 percent.

While the effects of violent crime and natural disasters are unquestionably devastating, the number of these incidents falls far short of the thousands of people who die and the millions who are disabled by unintentional injuries in the workplace, on the roads and in homes and communities each year.

According to the FBI's annual "Uniform Crime Report," 16,137 Americans were murdered in 2004. That same year, 230 Americans died in natural disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, extreme cold and severe or tropical storms. However, in 2004, unintentional injuries claimed more than 110,000 lives and disabled roughly 23.2 million people seriously enough to cause permanent or temporary disability.

Perceptions of Home Safety Don't Reflect Statistics

The survey also revealed that workers' perceptions of where injuries occur do not reflect national statistics that show far more people are killed or injured from accidents occurring in and around the home than in the workplace. About 31 percent of respondents said they believe they are safer at home than in the workplace, and 62 percent said they feel equally safe at home and at work. Only 5 percent said they feel safer at work.

However, in 2004, about 5,000 workers died and 3.7 million suffered disabling injuries as a result of accidents occurring in the workplace. That same year, nearly 44,100 workers died and 6.8 million American workers were disabled as a result of injuries suffered while they were off the job, according to NSC.

Despite the perception of being safer at home, the fact that the workplace is less dangerous is consistent with survey respondents' actual experiences. The Infosurv survey asked respondents if they, or someone they know, had suffered an injury requiring medical attention within the last 6 months. Of those responding "yes," 77 percent said the injury occurred away from work.

When asked about what type of workplace injuries they were most concerned about, more than 37 percent of respondents said they are more concerned about falls than any other type of injury.

In American homes, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths (12,800), followed by poisoning, fire, choking, suffocation and drowning.

The Infosurv survey was administered to a representative random sample of 413 employed adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percent.

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