Researchers recently compared injury and fatality rates in the construction industry in all 50 states. Some of the results surprised researchers.
Among the surprising findings: States that report low numbers of nonfatal injuries among construction workers tend to have high rates of fatal injuries, and the opposite is also true.
Researchers with the RAND Corporation found states with low injury rates and high fatality rates tended to:
- be in the South
- have lower worker compensation benefits
- be less unionized, and
- pay lower wages.
In contrast, states with high injury rates and lower fatality rates tended to:
- be in the West
- pay higher benefits and wages
- be more strongly unionized, and
- carry out more workplace inspections.
States with the highest number of injuries and lowest number of fatalities were Arizona, California, Maine, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. States with the highest number of fatalities and lowest number of injuries were Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Tennessee.
How workers’ comp figures in
The researchers found more extensive workers’ comp benefits are associated with higher reports of injuries largely because this gives workers more incentive to report injuries. It’s also plausible that costlier premiums that result from higher benefits provide a stronger incentive for employers to prevent injuries.
Because fatality rates are measured quite accurately, the findings suggest states reporting low injury rates and high fatality rates are probably under-reporting injuries. Thus, fatality rates appear to be a more valid measure of how a particular state is doing.
The study also suggests that, to a degree, reporting more injuries can be a sign of a better worker safety program. The authors compared it to reporting of medical errors by hospitals: Higher reporting often means more honest reporting and more opportunities to learn from the errors.
The researchers examined data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2003 to 2008.