Researcher pushes for better tracking to curb work-related injuries
A Michigan physician writes that officials in that state identified two-and-a-half times more occupational-related amputations than had been reported nationally.
"How is it possible that such an obvious injury is missed in the official statistics?" wrote Dr.Kenneth D. Rosenman, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Michigan State University. "When we in our program first began our work we assumed like many others that although the official statistics missed many chronic diseases such as lung cancer from asbestos, which the employer may not be aware of because it occurred years after a person retired, that the current national system worked for an acute obvious injury such as an amputation."
The national tracking system for work-related injuries and illnesses is "based on reporting by a sample of employers selected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics," Rosenman explained. "In contrast, our work in Michigan is based on collecting medical records from hospitals, emergency departments and clinics. We perform a census, not a sample, and our reports are not dependent on an employer knowing about the injury, recording the injury, accurately completing the OSHA log and being sampled by BLS. If a doctor states an individual has had an amputation, then those records are reported and reviewed."
Rosenman said Michigan State University partnered with the Michigan Department of Community Health for the study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. It is part of an effort to "find better ways to identify work-related injuries and use that information to prevent similar injuries."
He says the multi-source system Michigan used could allow OSHA to conduct inspections at facilities where amputations occurred. The BLS system, however, keeps the names of employers confidential, allowing OSHA only to identify trends and high-risk sectors.
Rosenman said Michigan is not the first state to uncover such findings. "In a 1988 National Academy of Medicine review of the BLS employer based survey, the NAS funded two studies, one in New Jersey and one in Texas that found that the BLS employer based survey missed 50 percent of work-related acute traumatic fatalities."
In response to those findings, the BLS initiated a multi-data source system that increased the recordings of work-related fatalities. Rosenman says a similar change is needed to identify illnesses and injuries.
"Knowing how many, who, and where injuries or disease are occurring is a basic premise of preventing injuries and illnesses," Rosenman said. "If we don't have accurate information on injury/illness occurrence, we don't know how many resources to devote, what action to take, or whether the action we do take is effective."
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May 6, 2013
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