New data could be used to implement workplace ergonomic guidelines
In late October, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the second of its annual three-part analysis reports on workplace fatalities, injuries/illnesses and days away from work. This report notes the 2007 calendar-year rate of workplace injuries resulting in days away from work and/or temporary job assignments (e.g., light-duty work) occurred at a rate of 2.1 per 100 equivalent full-time workers — an approximate 10% reduction from the 2006 calendar-year rate of 2.3 per 100.
This analysis seems to report progress in the area of workplace safety, a 30% reduction, in fact, since a 2000 calendar-year report noted an incident rate of 3.0.
Such optimism over workplace safety improvements should be guarded, however, since some occupations have reported less-than-satisfactory progress and such data could be used to resurrect the “ergonomic standards” legislation that was enacted in the closing days of the Clinton Administration. As you may recall, this legislation was repealed by President Bush on March 20, 2001.
The first in the BLS series is “The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries,” which provides a count of fatal work injuries occurring in the U.S. each calendar year. The second report utilizes data from a BLS program entitled “The Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses,” which samples information from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) logs of workplace injuries and illnesses maintained by employers. Frequency counts and incidence rates by industry are summarized in this just-published second report.
The third report, which is scheduled for release this month, covers the nature of injury, injured body part, injury event and workplace source of 2007 injuries.
The incident rate data noted in the second report should result in the following observations:
2007 injury rates declined from 2006 in 5 of the 19 private industry sectors — agriculture/forestry/fishing, mining, construction, manufacturing and healthcare/social assistance. Injury rates remain “statistically unchanged” in the remaining 14 sectors.
Truck transportation industry occupations reported a “days away from work or temporary assignment” incident rate of 3.5 per 100 — 40% above the 2007 national average.
With employment of about 1.45 million workers, the truck transportation industry generated approximately 51,000 “days away from work” cases.
The median number of lost workdays per case (as tabulated from the 2006 data set) for qualifying truck transportation cases is 14, compared with a private industry average of 7.
Given the current political climate, such data will no doubt be used to support calls for the re-enactment of ergonomic standards legislation. Many labor voices are still bitter about the 2001 Bush Administration repeal and these same voices were seen as significant contributors to the outcome of the November election results.
Becoming familiar with the BLS Workplace Injury Illness and Fatalities data, which can be found at www.bls.gov/iif, is just one way to help reduce future incidents. In January, we will review the third BLS report and examine the most common causes of workplace injuries among truck drivers and freight handling workers. We will also review voluntary ergonomic guidelines developed in two industry sectors and, most importantly, identify “best practices” that you can implement to reduce the most common workplace injury types.
Jim York is the ass't. vice president of technical services for Zurich Services Corp. Risk Engineering in Schaumburg, IL.