Researchers have once again shown that federal counts of workplace injuries don’t show the whole picture – not by a long shot.
Michigan State University researchers found that over a three-year period, workers in the state suffered two-and-a-half times the number of crushing injuries than reported by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
For 2013 through 2015, BLS reported 1,260 crushing injuries in Michigan.
Using records from all 134 of Michigan’s hospitals, the Michigan Workers’ Compensation Agency and Michigan’s Fatality Assessment Control and Evaluation (MIFACE) program, the MSU researchers counted 3,137 work-related crushing injuries, including two fatalities.
The researchers’ finding that BLS undercounted crushing injuries by 59.8% is similar to what they’ve found previously looking at other types of workplace injuries: amputations were undercounted by 59%, burns by 69% and skull fractures by 54%.
Another difference between the two counts: BLS found the rate of crushing injuries had declined during the period, while the researchers said the rate actually went up.
What are some reasons for the BLS undercount?
- BLS counts only injuries which caused one or more days away from work
- employers aren’t providing complete reporting
- employees may not report for fear of retaliation or because of incentive programs rewarding lack of injuries, and
- BLS excluded self-employed, household employees and workers on farms with less than 11 employees.
The researchers say not only does their count provide a more realistic picture about workplace injuries, it also allows Michigan OSHA (MiOSHA) to better target workplaces. Reporting by the researchers led to 77 MiOSHA inspections. At 79% of those companies inspected, the hazardous condition that caused the crushing injury hadn’t been corrected, even though the inspections occurred three to six months after the injury. Companies inspected faced MiOSHA fines up to $37,000, in many cases including a citation for not reporting the injury.
Is the Michigan count complete? Maybe not, said the researchers, because there are still limitations to their system. Sometimes the medical record information was limited. If an injured Michigan worker was treated in a hospital in a nearby state or in an urgent care center or physician’s office, it wasn’t counted.
Could the federal government conduct a similar workplace injury count? Good question. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) program, the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, reviews records from a sampling of hospital emergency rooms across the nation. Since it’s a sample, it’s not a complete count like the Michigan study.
What’s the ultimate goal of the Michigan count? The researchers say it’s to recognize and prevent work-related injuries.
Here’s a reason why all employers should care whether workplace injuries go unreported. As the Michigan study shows, not reported also means not inspected. And in 79% of those cases, hazardous conditions weren’t corrected even after a worker suffered a crushing injury.
It’s confirmation that some employers choose to continue to roll the dice regarding worker injuries even after serious ones that require a hospital visit. The reason they do so is to keep costs down. Honest employers that spend the money to eliminate injuries in the first place and accurately report when they do happen are put at an economic disadvantage compared to the companies that are taking their chances with safety.
Should more states set up programs like the one in Michigan to accurately count workplace injuries and, in the process, find employers who are hiding them? Let us know what you think about that and anything else related to the Michigan study in the comments.