Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Decrease 8 Percent in 2001

March 31, 2003
A total of 5.2 million injuries and illnesses were reported in private industry workplaces during 2001, resulting in a rate of 5.7 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers, a decrease of 8 percent compared to 2000. The most prevalent injuries and illnesses were noise-induced hearing loss and musculoskeletal injuries.

The rate for 2001 was the lowest reported since the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began reporting this information in the early 1970s. According to the BLS survey, employers reported a 1 percent decrease in hours worked in 2001. Incidence rates for goods-producing industries in 2001 ranged from 4.0 cases per 100 full-time employees in mining to 8.1 cases per 100 full-time employees in manufacturing. Within the service sector, incidence rates ranged from 1.8 cases per 100 full-time employees in finance, insurance and real estate to 6.9 cases per 100 full-time workers in transportation and public utilities.

"Overall workplace injuries and illnesses requiring time away from work have continued their steady decline for the tenth consecutive year. The detailed information that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has collected will help us better target our outreach and enforcement efforts in those industries that have more work to do to bring their injury and illness rates down," said Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.

The study is the second in a series of three that BLS occupational health and safety statistics. The first release, in September 2002, covered work-related fatalities from the 2001 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. In March 2003, a third release will provide details on the more seriously injured and ill workers (occupation, age, gender, race, and length of service) and on the circumstances of their injuries and illnesses (nature of the disabling condition, part of body affected, event or exposure, and primary source producing the disability).

Chao noted the number of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) injuries and illnesses that resulted in days away from work showed a significant decline of 9.6 percent, greater than the overall decline of 7.6 percent for all lost workday injuries. However, she added, "Truck drivers, laborers, nurses and nursing aides, and other employees continue to suffer high rates of injuries and illnesses in their workplaces. We must find ways to reduce the hazards that these workers experience and make their workplaces safer and healthier."

Other findings from the study include:

  • Of the 5.2 million total injuries and illnesses reported in 2001, about 2.6 million were lost workday cases, requiring recuperation away from work or restricted duties at work, or both. The remaining 2.7 million were cases without lost workdays.
  • Of the 5.2 million nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in 2001, 4.9 million were injuries. Injury rates generally were higher for mid-size establishments (those employing 50 to 249 workers) than for smaller or larger establishments, although this pattern did not hold within certain industry divisions.
  • Eight industries eating and drinking establishments, hospitals, nursing and personal care facilities, grocery stores, department stores, trucking and courier services (except air), air transportation and motor vehicle and equipment each had at least 100,000 injuries and accounted for about 1.4 million injuries, or 29 percent of the 4.9 million total.
  • There were about 333,800 newly reported cases of occupational illnesses in private industry in 2001. Manufacturing accounted for 54 percent of these cases.
  • Disorders associated with repeated trauma, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and noise-induced hearing loss, accounted for 4 percent of the 5.2 million total workplace injuries and illnesses in 2001. They were, however, the dominant type of illness reported, making up 65 percent of the 333,800 total illness cases. The number of repeated trauma cases reported for 2001 (216,400) was 10 percent lower than the corresponding 2000 figure (242,000). Sixty-five percent of the repeated trauma cases in 2001 were in manufacturing industries.

"There are too many hardworking people who are injured on the job every day," concluded Chao. "Our goal is to continue and accelerate this decline so that workers can count on going to safe, healthful, hazard-free workplaces every day."

The Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses is a federal/state program in which employer reports were collected from about 179,800 private industry establishments and processed by state agencies cooperating with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Occupational injury and illness data for coal, metal and nonmetal mining and for railroad activities were provided by the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration. The survey excludes the self-employed; farms with fewer than 11 employees; private households; federal government agencies; and, for national estimates, employees in state and local government agencies.

For further information about the survey, visit the BLS Web site at www.bls.gov/news.release/osh.nr0.htm.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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