While the recession drove California’s average annual employment down 3.7 percent in 2009, the number of work injuries and illnesses reported by California employers showed an even sharper decline, falling 9.2 percent according to the latest figures from the state.
Data compiled by the Division of Labor Statistics and Research (DLS&R) from employers’ Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) logs shows that in 2009, California’s 14.9 million public and private sector employees suffered just under 492,000 recordable work injuries and illnesses. That total was down 9.2 percent from 2008, a decline that exceeded the 3.7 percent reduction in average annual employment. More than half of the 2009 work injuries and illnesses (269,300 cases) resulted in days away from work, work restriction or job transfer (referred to as DART cases) down from 298,400 cases reported in 2008, a 9.8 percent drop.
The tally of 2009 work injuries and illnesses for all California employees, including government and private sector workers, translates to a rate of 4.2 work injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time employees (FTEs), compared to a rate of 4.4 in 2008 and 4.7 in 2007. That decline reflected a drop in the incidence of DART cases — typically more serious and more expensive injuries — which fell from 2.4 cases per 100 FTEs in 2008 to 2.3 cases in 2009; as well as a decline in the rate of “other recordable cases,” including first aid cases and less serious injuries that may have resulted in medical-only workers’ compensation claims. The incidence of these less serious injuries and illnesses per 100 FTEs edged down from 2 in 2008 to 1.9 in 2009.
A breakdown by industry sector shows that the work injury and illness rate among private sector employees, who make up nearly 86 percent of the California work force, continued to decline last year, falling from 4.4 to 3.9 cases per 100 FTEs between 2007 and 2008 before dropping to 3.7 in 2009. As usual, work injuries and illnesses were more common among local government workers, who account for 1 out of 9 jobs in the state – including occupations such as public safety officers, transit workers and teachers. Although the incidence of work injuries and illnesses among local government workers remained above the rates noted for other sectors, after registering a sharp increase in 2008, the rate among these workers did improve last year, falling from 8.5 to 8.1 cases per 100 FTEs. Similarly, the rate for state employees, who comprise 3 percent of the California work force, moved up in 2008, but then came back down in 2009, improving from 5.7 to 5.3 cases per 100 FTEs. The 2009 reductions in the overall work injury and illness rates for all three sectors were led by declines in the incidence of cases involving days away from work, job transfer or work restriction. In the private sector the rate of these more serious injuries fell from 2.2 to 2.1 cases per 100 FTEs; among local government employees, the rate dropped from 4 to 3.7; and among state government workers the rate fell from 3.1 to 2.8.
The California Division of Labor Statistics & Research, along with agencies in other states, conduct the OSHA Injury and Illness Census in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Comparing California’s data to the nationwide totals shows that in 2009, California accounted for 11.4 percent of the private industry and state and local government job tally for the U.S.; and 11.9 percent of the reported work injuries and illnesses cases – including 13.2 percent of all DART cases reported nationwide. California’s aggregate work injury and illness rate of 4.2 was above the nationwide rate of 3.9, with the incidence of DART cases higher than the nationwide rate (2.3 versus 1.9 cases per 100 FTE) while the incidence of other recordable cases was slightly less (1.9 cases versus 2 cases).
Differences in results among states may be due to a number of factors, including differences in the mix of jobs and industries, demographic and environmental differences, variations in state laws and regulations, safety and return-to-work programs and enforcement levels, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not attempt to control for such factors. The level and accuracy of employer reporting also may vary.
Last fall, the Government Accounting Office issued a study on under-reporting of work injuries (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d1010.pdf) which prompted OSHA regulators to initiate a national program to underscore the importance of accurate job injury and illness recordkeeping. Under the program, which primarily targets employers with lower than average injury and illness rates in historically high rate industries, OSHA inspectors have been sent to work sites across the country to check employers’ work injury and illness records and to take enforcement actions wherever they find under-reporting of injuries. At the same time, the California Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement has been cracking down on uninsured employers and those who claim employees are independent contractors, targeting industries including car washes, agriculture, garment manufacturing, and construction where lack of workers’ compensation coverage and under-reporting of job injuries have been especially problematic.
Data for this study is said to offer a broader picture of California’s work injury and illness experience than workers’ compensation claim counts, as the DLS&R numbers include those recorded by employers for which no workers’ compensation claims were filed by the employee. In addition, rather than tracking indemnity claims, DLS&R tallies injuries and illnesses that resulted in days away from work, work restrictions or job transfers, including those for which no indemnity was due because the employee returned to work within three days or was not hospitalized.
More details and data tables from the 2009 nonfatal injury and illness surveys for California are posted on the DLS&R web page at http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlsr/Injuries/2009/Menu.htm and nationwide results are on the U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics website at http://www.bls.gov/iif/home.htm.
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