With the passing this week of Labor Day, officials in the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) are reminding Oregonians that workplace illness and injuries — despite significant improvements — remain an important issue.
“In 2003, more than 20,000 Oregon workers suffered from work-related injuries and illnesses serious enough for them to miss at least three days of work,” said Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist in DHS. “Sadly, most of these events were preventable.”
But now Oregon is getting another boost to enhance the state’s ability to measure trends in workplace safety and health, according to Kohn.
DHS has received a five-year, $1 million grant to create an enhanced worker injury and illness tracking and research program. Funds from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health will help to provide additional data to evaluate worker health and safety efforts in Oregon.
Oregon is among 12 states to receive the competitively awarded grants.
“This means we can systematically collect and analyze workplace injury and illness data from a variety of government and private partners over time,” Kohn said.
Partners in the effort to improve worker health and safety include Oregon OSHA and the Workers’ Compensation Division, both within the state Department of Consumer and Business Services (DCBS), as well as employers, industry groups, organized labor, insurance companies, health care organizations and universities, according to Kohn.
Oregon has reportedly made significant improvements in workplace safety and health during the past 15 years, reducing injuries and illnesses in the private sector by more than 40 percent.
A special session of the Legislature in 1990 adopted several reforms of Oregon’s workers’ compensation system, creating increased workplace injury and illness prevention services and reduced rates for workers’ comp insurance. According to DCBS, the average economic impact of a serious workplace injury is $43,000 while costs associated with a fatal accident can exceed $1 million.
“Workplace hazards not only take a human toll, but also pose an economic burden for workers, employers and insurers,” said Kohn.
Oregon data is included in a national report, “Putting Data to Work: Occupational Health Indicators from Thirteen Pilot States for 2000,” just released by the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists, a professional organization of epidemiologists.
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