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How Many Work-Related Injuries Are There?

By December 11, 2009Commentary

The Government Accounting Office took a look at the accuracy and completeness of worker injury information reported to OSHA.  (GAO Report) The report found that it is likely there is under-reporting.  OSHA requires reporting from firms with more than 10 employees in what it defines as high hazard industries.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics does its own survey to determines rates of worker injury and trends in workplace accidents and illnesses.

The GAO found that OSHA inadequately audited the numbers reported to it and that a number of factors suggested there was potentially significant under-reporting.  It based this conclusion in part upon interviews with occupational health providers, many of whom said they had been pressured by employers or employees not to treat an injury as work-related.  Some of the causes of under-reporting listed by GAO include workers’ desire not to miss out on incentive programs related to good safety records, workers’ fear of retribution by employers, workers’ fear of being asked to take a drug test, companies’  desire to keep workers’ compensation costs down and companies’ wanting to avoid other negative consequences of a poor safety record.

Another sensationalized study released earlier this year suggested that among low-wage workers only 8% of injuries were reported, which the study attributed to bad employer behaviors.  (Low-wage Worker Study) That study’s authors, however, have a clear ideological bent and their survey method was so obviously biased and lacking in credibility that the results can’t be taken seriously.   The GAO analysis is another matter, and it is likely to result in strengthened audits of employer reporting and other methods to more completely identify the number workplace injuries and illnesses.  This could result in an increase in workers’ compensation insurance costs, which might further restrain increased hiring.  Employers, partly through their own improved safety programs, have benefited from a long-running decline in workers’ compensation claims.  Enhanced enforcement efforts may reverse that trend.

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