A study in the June 2010 Â issue of Annals of Epidemiology finds that we have two sets of books when it comes to injuries in the workplace.Â OSHA reportable figures (as found in the Bureau of Labor Statistics), orÂ those injury stats reported by employers, are 24% to 49% lower than the number of injuries the study found in worker compensation claims.Â Injuries have declined since 2000, but fatalities have not.Â What gives?
Workers’ comp numbers are the real thing.Â Employees don’t care what employers report to OSHA — they want coverage for work-related injuries.Â Why the disparity? Some believe that because incentive plans include safetyÂ goals related to the injury rateÂ that managers are motivated to put pressure on workers to not report injuries.Â Â Some managers even pressure docs into characterizing an injury as a non-work one.Â Other managers ask docs to write a different diagnosis so as to avoid a reportable.Â I’ve had employees tell me stories about their managers going with them to the hospital or doctor to get the injury characterized in the “right” way.
And when all else fails on the diagnosis and classification end,Â there is the always wiggle room of technical compliance with the lost work-day reporting requirements.Â There is no question that federal regulations on reportables are confusing.Â However, this study seems to indicate something more is going on than just differing interpretations.Â
If an employee can return to work, the injury is not a lost work-day report.Â Dr. Robert McClellan. formerly the president of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, often cites an example of a worker being wheeled onto a construction site with his broken leg so as to avoid a lost work-day report.Â So an employee reported for beam work with a cast and in a wheelchair.Â That’s close enough when it comes to reporting for OSHA.Â
Figures don’t lie, but liars do figure.Â The end result of all this cleverÂ manipulationÂ of injury and safety records is the same as the end result when financial reports are manipulated.Â We don’t have transparency.Â But, more importantly, we don’t know our true situation.Â The numbers become meaningless when loopholes are theÂ govering standard.Â Â Companies with the lowest injury rates may not beÂ as safe as companies with a much higher injury rate.Â The difference may not be one of safety, but one of honesty.Â
I find myself telling recruiters, because of the high levels of cheating among college and graduate students, to take a hard look at the “C” students.Â No one cheats to earn a “C.”Â They may well be your most knowledgeable and learned students.Â And companies with AIIRs that look like the Keystone Kops are working there may well be safer environments than companies with low injury rates but a wheelchair section for workers rolled onto their sites.Â Â
For more information
Leslie I. Boden and Al Ozonoff, “Captureâ€“Recapture Estimates of Nonfatal Workplace Injuries and Illnesses, Annals of EpidemiologyÂ 18(6):500-506 (2008).
Stats are summarized in Kris Maher, “Injuries Are Undercounted, Studies Say,” Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2008, p. A3.