For the first time in a decade, the rate of nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses did not decrease from one year to the next. The question is: Why?
Private industry employers reported almost 3.0 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a rate of 3.5 cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers (FTEs). That’s the same rate as in 2010.
There was no movement in the numbers for the following categories from 2010 to 2011:
- cases with days away from work
- OSHA-recordable cases not requiring time away from work
- illness case rates, and
- cases involving days away from work, job transfer or restriction (commonly called DART cases) combined.
The rates in 32 states and the District of Columbia also remained the same.
Among injury and illness rates that declined:
- those in the healthcare/social assistance and retail trade sectors
- injuries, when taken separately from illnesses, declined slightly from a rate of 3.3 cases per 100 FTEs from 3.4, and
- rates in 7 states.
There were also some increases to balance out those declines:
- agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industry sector, and
- food services sector.
The total recordable case rate remained highest in 2011 among mid-size companies (those with between 50 and 249 employees) and lowest among small employers (those with fewer than 11 workers).
For injuries, 25% occurred in manufacturing even though goods-producing industries account for only 17.5% of employment. Manufacturing industries accounted for 36% of illness cases.
Blip or trend?
So what’s going on here?
Total recordable case rates for injuries and illnesses had declined significantly each year since 2002. But that ended in 2011.
Taken alone, it’s tempting to say this is just a one-year blip.
However, fatal injuries have increased slightly for the last two years data are available (2010 and 2011).
The working theory (espoused as recently as the National Safety Council 2012 congress from October 22-24 in Orlando) had been that recordables were decreasing but fatalities were increasing because of different contributing factors for the two types of injuries.
Safety pros related the BP spill to this theory. While the oil giant was celebrating its reduction of minor, recordable injuries, such as slip-and-falls, the company’s safety culture wasn’t addressing the process-safety factors which contribute to incidents that cause fatalities and serious, life-changing injuries.
But if non-fatal injuries increase again for 2012, safety pros and companies may have to ask themselves a different question: Why have we been unable to reduce injury rates at all?
What do you think? What’s causing the increases in fatal and non-fatal injury rates in the U.S.? Let us know in the comments below. Also see our related Quick Vote poll on this issue on our homepage.