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The Bureau of Labor Statistics: the history of tracking workplace injuries

| Aug 27, 2020 | Workers' Compensation

The early 1970s were simpler times, though nostalgia for those days should be leavened with caution: those were much more dangerous times for workers. In 1972, there were 10.9 cases of nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time workers. That rate declined to 2.8 cases of workplace injuries and illnesses by 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Origins of the Bureau of Labor Statistics

If we go back just a bit further in time, on December 28, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act into law. That landmark legislation created what we now know as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). The measure also directed the Labor Secretary to compile and maintain occupational safety and health statistics – a task carried out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The agency published its first Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) in 1972, and its most recent one last year. The surveys are packed with critical information about types of nonfatal work-related injuries and illness, as well as incidence rates and counts.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics began issuing more detailed reports on fatal occupational injuries in 1992, helping workers, employers, survivors and others to understand the characteristics of deadly on-the-job incidents.

Being clear about causes

The agency wants to make clear the causes of fatal work injuries differ from the causes of nonfatal work injuries. For example, in 2018 39.7 percent of fatal injuries occurred in transportation incidents, while just 6 percent of nonfatal work injuries did.

A common cause of nonfatal workplace injuries in 2018: Slips, trips and falls (27 percent). On the other hand, 15.1 percent of fatal work injuries occurred in slips, trips and falls.

Workers are certainly safer than they were in the early days of injury tracking, though the reality is that employees get injured while working every day. Most workers injured on the job in Milwaukee are eligible for Wisconsin workers’ compensation benefits.

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