Measuring Occupational Injuries

It is difficult to measure the magnitude of occupational illnesses and injuries. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that provides statistics based on surveys of private companies having more than 11 employees (an underestimate of the real totals), reported 5,488 fatal accidents related to work (3.7 for every 100,000) and around 4.0 million nonfatal illnesses or injuries (4.2 for every 100 equivalent full-time workers in 2007). Approximately 2.1 million illnesses and injuries necessitated recuperation away from workplace, restricted duties at work, or job transfer.

Examination of data gathered from a number of data sets (including the BLS) to generate the following approximation of the total number of occupational illness and injury occurring annually in the United States: 6500 fatalities from job-related injuries; 13.2 million nonfatal injuries; 60,300 deaths resulting from job-related disease; and 862,200 illnesses (work-related). The entire costs involved were approximately $171 billion. It was noticed in a study of health maintenance organization (HMO) members diagnosed with adult-onset asthma that 21 percent of cases were associated with occupational exposure.

Epidemiological studies involving firefighters and first responders are worth noting. For instance, the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster in the United States in September 2001 created controversy over conditions associated with exposure to toxic gases and dusts. Studies involving first responders within the first month after the WTC disaster revealed that bronchial reactivity was three times more in case of individuals who were at the site in the morning when the disaster occurred, in comparison to those who came later. Studies in the following year that focused on pulmonary function of rescue workers belonging to the NYC Fire Department showed significant reduction in average FEV1 in comparison to pulmonary function studies that were undertaken five years earlier. It has been reported that the incidence of “sarcoid-like” granulomatous pulmonary disease has increased. Also, an increased occurrence of fatal coronary heart disease has been noticed while comparing firefighters who were assigned emergency firefighting duties with those who were not assigned urgent duties.