BLS: Work-related Repetitive Motion Injuries Decline

The new workplace injury and illness data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) had some welcome news about the declining number of work-related repetitive motion injuries.

"I am pleased to see that the rate 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," said Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.

The Department of Labor later issued a correction the rate of MSD injuries and illnesses that resulted in days away from work actually declined by only 8.5 percent, while the total number of MSDs fell by 9.6 percent.

While welcoming the news about falling MSD rates, Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO's health and safety director, worried about the under-reporting of illnesses and injuries.

"It's better to have the numbers coming down than the number going up," she said. "But not enough is being done to assure that the numbers are an accurate reflection of what's going on in the workplace."

Seminario explained that vigorous enforcement of OSHA's recordkeeping standard seems to have fallen off in recent years.

"Especially since there's so much emphasis on these numbers with respect to the targeting of OSHA's enforcement effort and the evaluation of the agency's programs, it's more important than ever we have confidence in these numbers."

Some observers have been alarmed at the rise in the number of restricted work activity cases in recent years, prompting speculation that employers may be requiring workers to show up for restricted work for the same sort of injury that in the past would have led to a day away from work.

The 2001 numbers do not seem to support this hypothesis, however. In 2001, the number of restricted work cases declined by six percent from 2000. BLS does not break down restricted work cases by type of injury, so there is no way to know whether the number of MSDs that lead to restricted work is rising or falling.

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