A recently issued Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report revealed a sharp rise in the 2022 employer-reported injuries and illnesses. Employers find themselves facing a challenging scenario with a 7.5% increase in nonfatal incidents from 2021 to 2022. The 2022 total includes more than 2.3 million injuries and nearly 461,000 illnesses. The data helps to shed a light on the root causes, industries most affected, and potential strategies for fostering safer workplaces.
Understanding the Numbers
The BLS report, issued on November 9, 2023, reveals that private industry employers reported 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2022. This marks a 7.5% increase from the previous year, driven by a rise in both injuries (4.5%) and illnesses (26.1%). Comparatively, in 2021, 2.6 million injuries and illnesses were reported.
For the second consecutive year, nonfatal workplace injuries surged by over 100,000. However, the 2.3 million injuries in 2022 are less than the approximately 2.7 million reported in both 2019 and 2018. Overexertion and bodily reaction emerged as the leading cause of injury. Overexertion involving outside sources has a collective annual cost of $12.84 billion for employers, according to the 2022 Workplace Safety Index by Liberty Mutual. Additionally, awkward postures, or “other exertions or bodily reactions,” cost employers $3.67 billion a year.
The private sector maintained an injury rate of 2.3 cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers, consistent with 2021. Conversely, the illness rate witnessed a 19.9% surge, reaching 45.2 cases per 10,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2022, up from 37.7 cases in 2021
The report highlights that health care and social assistance topped the list with the highest number of recordable cases (665,300), followed by retail trade (422,700) and manufacturing (396,800). Moreover, transportation and warehousing claimed the highest rate at 4.8 per 100 full-time-equivalent (FTE) workers, with health care and social assistance (4.5) ranking second, followed by arts, entertainment, and recreation (4.2).
Fatalities, sourced from the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), illuminate the deadliest aspects of various workplaces. From traditional employees to the self-employed and unpaid family workers, the data paints a holistic picture of occupational hazards.
Nonfatal cases, drawn from the BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, broaden the view to injuries and illnesses. However, note that this data usually excludes the self-employed, unpaid family workers, and government employees, unless the government is selected as the industry.
Profiling worker demographics and detailing the nature, source, and event of injuries or illnesses, the data dives deep into the heart of workplace risks. The answer to the perpetual question of the most dangerous industry varies based on metrics.
- Construction, with the most workplace deaths, signals inherent risks.
- Education and health services, leading in nonfatal injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work, underscores challenges in caregiving roles.
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting, with the highest death rate per 100,000 workers, highlights the unique hazards of working with nature.
- Transportation and warehousing, boasting the highest injury rate and illness rate per 10,000 workers, emphasizes the importance of safety in logistical operations.
Respiratory Illness Rollercoaster
A nearly 100,000 increase in recorded illnesses from 2021 is mainly attributed to a spike in respiratory illnesses. Respiratory illness cases increased by 35.4% to 365,000 cases in 2022. These cases constituted nearly 80% of all workplace illnesses. Respiratory illnesses had previously decreased compared to the previous year. The rollercoaster ride of respiratory cases, peaking in 2020, dropping in 2021, and rebounding in 2022, highlights the challenges employers face in managing the aftermath of the pandemic.
In the context of COVID-19, 2020’s dynamic shift subsequentially propelled education and health services to the top spot due to pandemic-related illnesses. However, with a subsequent decline in illness cases, the industry fell to fourth place in 2021. This underscores the need for adaptable safety strategies in general as industries evolve and face unforeseen challenges.
A Call to Action
In the face of these revelations, employers have a unique opportunity to reassess and fortify their commitment to occupational health and safety. The surge in incidents calls for a renewed focus on tailored safety measures, particularly in response to the evolving challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Engaging the workforce in the development and implementation of safety protocols is paramount.
Undoubtedly, the main priority while navigating workplace safety in 2023 and beyond will be a sector-specific lens. As employers digest the insights from the BLS reports, they should craft safety protocols that align with the unique challenges of their industries. Whether it’s the physical demands of construction, the caregiving complexities in education and health services, the unpredictable nature of agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting, or the logistical challenges in transportation and warehousing, a tailored approach is certainly key. By acknowledging and addressing industry-specific dynamics, employers can foster safer, healthier, and more resilient workplaces for their employees.
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