Study Shows Discrepancy Between Workplace Fatality and Injury Rates
Recently, the RAND corporation conducted a review of workplace injury rates and of workplace fatality rates in different states. The study was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine and used data collected from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. A California injury lawyer discusses the findings.
Researchers conducting the study reviewed state data on workplace injuries and workplace deaths from 2003 through 2005 and from 2006 through 2008. The purpose of the review was to determine the relationship between fatal and nonfatal injuries among the different states.
While many would assume a correlation and believe that a state with a high number of deaths would also have a high number of injuries, the data revealed that the opposite was true. The states with the highest number of nonfatal workplace injuries had the lowest numbers of on-the-job fatalities, while states with the highest number of workplace deaths had lower rates of workplace injury.
States that had higher injury rates but lower fatality rates included Arizona, California, Maine, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. States that had a high workplace death rate but that had a lower rate of nonfatal accidents included Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Tennessee.
Explaining the Discrepancy
“While the discrepancy may seem surprising, there are clear policy reasons that help to explain the outcome,” explained the California injury lawyer.
The states that have the highest rate of nonfatal injuries but the lowest death rates are those states that tend to have broader worker protections in place and states that tend to provide better and more comprehensive workers’ compensation benefits. The states with high death rates but low injury rates, on the other hand, tend to be less generous with workers’ compensation benefits and may have fewer laws protecting workers.
The generous workers’ compensation benefits and strong climate of employee protection in California and the other states with low fatality rates likely prompts more workers who are hurt on the job to report their injuries in order to make a benefits claim. Thus, the rate of nonfatal workplace injuries appears higher than in states where the benefits may be less generous and injuries may go unreported.
Workers who live in states where it is harder to get workers’ compensation benefits and where there are fewer protections may be less likely to report injuries, making it appear as if the injury rate in these locations in lower. In reality, of course, there are not necessarily fewer workplace injuries. It is simply that fewer workplace injuries are recorded.
The correlation between high rates of reported injuries and low fatality rates thus makes much more sense. States with better worker protection laws, like California, are likely to have fewer workplace deaths by virtue of the fact that the state—and employers within it—take more steps to protect workers, according to the lawyer. This reduces the chances that there will be a death on the job.
Further explaining the correlation is the fact that a reported injury can alert employers and alert OSHA to problems that could be dangerous. When an injury is reported, OSHA can investigate and force policy changes and/or an employer can take action to change policies in order to prevent further injuries. Unsafe situations can thus be corrected before dangerous conditions result in a worker dying.
Understanding this information sheds more light on why California and other low-fatality states tend to have higher rates of reported injury. An understanding of this data also underscores the importance of having strong workers’ compensation laws in order to reduce the number of workers who die on the job.
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