Study points to underreporting in states with high fatal, low nonfatal injury rates
Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the study found that states that report low numbers of nonfatal injuries among construction workers tend to have high rates of fatal injuries and vice versa.
"The finding that the correlation between nonfatal and fatal injury rates in construction is negative is surprising," the study said. "We think that nonfatal injuries are relatively underreported in states with high fatality rates."
Researchers from the RAND Corporation looked at fatal and nonfatal injuries in the construction industry in the years 2003-05 and 2006-08. They found states with high fatality rates and low nonfatal injury rates "tended to be in the South, have lower worker compensation benefits, be less unionized and pay lower wages," the report says. "In contrast, states with high nonfatal injury rates and lower fatality rates tended to be in the West, pay higher benefits and wages, be more strongly unionized and carry out more workplace inspections."
The states with the highest number of nonfatal injuries and the lowest number of fatal injuries were Arizona, California, Maine, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin. Those with the highest number of fatalities and lowest number of nonfatal accidents were Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee.
The scope of benefits offered through workers' comp programs was said to be a key factor influencing injury trends. More extensive workers' comp benefits are associated with higher reports of nonfatal injuries, largely because such benefits provide more incentive for workers to report injuries, the researchers said. At the same time, it is plausible that the costlier premiums that result from higher benefits provide a stronger incentive for employers to prevent injuries.
The study says states also differ in their labor markets, including the role of labor unions and the level of unemployment and wages. There are also cultural factors "such as habits of compliance with government regulations."
The study shows it makes a "great deal of difference which outcome measure is used to assess safety and health. To a certain degree, reporting more injuries can be a sign of a better worker safety program."
The researchers compared it to reporting medical errors by hospitals. "Higher reporting levels often mean more honest reporting and more opportunities to learn from the errors."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
June 28, 2012
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