Preventing Accidents and Injuries at Work

Besides general health risks, shift workers also face a wide range of faster-acting dangers. Every seven seconds another worker gets injured, and every day, machinery accidents, falls, crashes, and other accidents take lives. Older workers and minority workers face higher injury and fatality rates. Read here the startling facts about on-the-job death and injury, the financial and health costs, the facts of why accidents happen and tips for making work a safer place.


According to government statistics, 16 workers are killed in the U.S. every day of the year from falls, electrocutions, explosions, trench collapses, getting caught in machinery, violence, and vehicle crashes.  And over 11,000 workers are injured every day, one every seven seconds.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there were 5,488 fatal work injuries recorded in the United States in 2007, a decrease of 6% from 2006. While the overall numbers of reported fatal injuries appear to be moving in the right direction, a 2008 Congressional report found two out of three work-related illnesses and injuries may be going unreported, calling into question federal regulators’ claims that workplace problems are declining. A recent study that examined injury and illness reporting found that the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries missed more than two-thirds of occupational injuries and illnesses.

Statistics from the 2007 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries

The rate of fatal injuries for U.S. workers in 2007 was 3.7 fatal work injuries per 100,000 workers.  Overall, 90% of the fatal work injuries involved workers in private industry.  The following is the breakdown of fatal work injuries by industry:

1. Service-providing industries in the private sector – 48%
2. Goods-producing industries contributed – 42%
3.  Government workers contributed – 10%

Fatalities among workers in transportation and warehousing, which had the second largest number of fatalities, decreased 3% from the number reported in 2006.  Transportation incidents, which typically account for two-fifths of all workplace fatalities, fell to 2,234 cases in 2007 (40% of 2007 fatalities).  Fatalities also declined in the construction industry which represented 21% of the total fatalities in 2007.

With a total of 392 fatal work injuries, manufacturing recorded the lowest total in the past five years.  The 2007 total for manufacturing represents a 14% decrease from the 2006 count.  Fatalities among workers in protective service occupations rose 19% from 2006 to 2007: police officers (up 30%), fire fighters (up 17%), and security guards (up 11%).

Fatalities were down 13% in the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting industry sector in 2007.  In the trade industry (wholesale and retail), fatal work injuries were down 8% from their 2006 level.  While most wholesale trade subsectors declined, fatal work injuries in retail grocery stores were up 26% (from 57 in 2006 to 72 in 2007), due largely to an increase in workplace homicides in that industry.

Workplace homicides increased by 13% in 2007.  But, even with this increase, workplace homicides have declined 44% from the high of 1,080 reported in 1994.  Workplace homicides involving police officers and supervisors of retail sales workers both saw substantial increases in 2007.

While fatal work injuries fell 6% from 2006, fatalities of non-Hispanic Black or African American workers increased by 5% to 591 in 2007.  This is the highest number reported for Black or African American workers since 1999.

Fatalities incurred by workers age 65 and older decreased 7%.  However, older workers were about 3 times more likely than all workers to be killed on the job.  Close to 18% of fatal occupational injuries in 2007 were incurred by workers who were born outside of the United States (959).  Of the foreign born workers who were fatally injured in the U.S. in 2007, the largest share was born in Mexico (44%).

With respect to the number of occupational injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work, the 2006 rate was 128 per 10,000 workers; this was a decrease of 6% over 2005.  Data for 2007 is not yet available.  There were 1.2 million cases requiring days away from work in private industry, which represented a decrease of 51,180 cases (or 4%). Median days away from work, a key measure of the severity of the injury or illness, was 7 days in 2006, the same as the prior two years.  Almost one-fourth of all day away from work cases resulted in 31 or more days away from work.

Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants had a rate of 526 days away from work per 10,000 workers, which was more than four times the total for all occupations. Three other occupations had rates above 400 per 10,000 workers.  These included construction laborers (488), laborers and freight, stock, and material movers (466), and heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers (411).  Men had a day away from work rate of 143 per 10,000 workers, while the rate for women was 106 per 10,000 workers. Four out of ten days away from work cases were sprains or strains.  Approximately 20% of these were suffered by laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, and nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) accounted for 30% of the injuries and illnesses with days away from work, the same percentage as in 2005.

What is the Reason for Accidents

OSHA’s Management Information System Database contains detailed records of workplace accident inspections; more than 44,000 accidents have been attributed to human factors since 1976. When human factors are identified as the cause of an accident, these factors can be easily divided into three categories:

1. Employee error – misjudged situations, distractions by others, neurological/muscular issues, and inappropriate working positions

2. Equipment insufficiency – inappropriate equipment, lack of safety devices, exposure/biological monitoring,  respiratory protection and protective clothing/equipment, distracting conditions, such as noise, fumes, heat or cold

3. Procedure insufficiency – Lack of written procedures in worker languages, improper work design and flow, lack of supervision, work schedules and levels of overtime

Employee error is the most commonly identified reason for an accident.  However, over the last 25 years, employee error has contributed to fewer and fewer accidents while equipment insufficiency and procedure insufficiency have contributed to more.

Time of Injury Statistics

BLS collects the time of day and day of the week the injury or illness occurred and the time the employee had spent on the job before the incident:

-87% percent of injuries and illnesses occurred on Monday through Friday, except in the leisure and hospitality sector, where 27% of injuries and illnesses occurred during the weekend.

-The eight-hour period from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. accounted for 65% of the day away from work cases reported in 2006. The 4:00 p.m. to midnight time period accounted for 20% of the cases.

– Workers on the job from two to four hours before the incident incurred the highest number of injuries and illnesses (248,980 or 26%  ). Employees on the job for more than eight hours accounted for 12% of cases.

Reading these statistics might cause one to conclude that working nights and weekends might actually be safer.  It has been found that the night shift was not as dangerous as it might have been presumed, taking into account the lowered level of human performance and accumulation of fatigue.  However, typically the severity of injuries is greater during non-daytime periods.  More injuries occur at the end of the night shift, at the 2nd part of the shift block, and in the summer. Accident rates are lower on weekends, especially on Sundays.

The International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations, predicts increases in the number of young people (ages 15 to 24) and older people (ages 60 and over) entering the workforce over the next 15 years.  They have warned that workers in these two age groups tend to suffer higher on-the-job accident rates. The report calls for the development of specially tailored accident and disease prevention programs for workers in these two age groups.

Preparation for Shift Work to Reduce Accidents and Injuries

Here are some critical ideas of ways to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries at work:

1. Encourage employees and managers to sleep and eat well before their shifts
2. Have sleep-preparation rituals to promote good sleep hygiene
3. Block out noise and light while sleeping with a sleep-mask, black-out curtains, ear-plugs or a white noise machine
5. Avoid excessive reliance on caffeine

6. Rotate shifts in a forward fashion (Days to Evenings to Nights to Days)

7. On the first day off, encourage employees and managers to try to get on their family’s cycle as soon as possible

8.Make time for regular exercise

9. Think about safety at home and at work more often and more comprehensively; near misses become real accidents and injuries

10. Make sure to be awake enough to drive home safely without falling asleep at the wheel

Companies should encourage workers to be willing to inform managers about errors, incidents, near-misses, and other safety concerns. When workers were not encouraged to report incidents, managers did not investigate incidents or take appropriate corrective action.



This material is provided for personal, non-commercial, educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement

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