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Study: BLS Significantly Underestimates Injuries and Illnesses

A NIOSH-funded study conducted by researchers from Michigan State University concludes that the current national system for calculating workplace injuries and illnesses "markedly underestimates the magnitude of these conditions."

The study, which is detailed in the April edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, analyzes Michigan workplace injury and illness data in five different databases, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the years 1999, 2000 and 2001. From that analysis, the researchers conclude that the number of work-related injuries and illnesses in Michigan is three times greater than BLS estimates.

The findings lead the researchers to believe that BLS significantly underestimates U.S. workplace injuries and illnesses. The researchers conclude that BLS needs to overhaul its current system "to address the undercount."

Currently, BLS comes up with its estimates of workplace injuries and illnesses based on a sampling of employers, not a census of all work-related injuries and illnesses. The annual BLS survey does not include farms with fewer than 11 employees, private households, federal government agencies and, for national estimates, state and local government employees.

The Michigan State researchers point to the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries as "an example of basic changes that were implemented to correct the undercount in fatal work-related injuries."

"CFOI is a complete census that uses multiple data sources, covers all workers and is not dependent on an employer either being aware of the condition or responding to a survey," the researchers explain. "However, no such system has ever been implemented to improve the national estimates for nonfatal work-related injuries and illnesses."

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