Despite lingering concerns about underlying accuracy, 2007 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate a continuing trend of reduced injury and illness in American workplaces.

The overall injury and illness rate for all private employers was 4.2 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers, a decrease from the 2006 rate of 4.4. The rate in construction was 5.4, an 8.5 percent drop from 2006 and a 14.3 percent decline from 2005. Construction accounted for about 31 percent of all injuries and illnesses in the goods-producing sector which employs about 20 percent of the total American workforce. 

Concerns about the accuracy of BLS data were raised in 2006 when Labor Secretary Elaine Chao made the disingenuous claim that injury and illness rates had declined a startling 19 percent since the Bush Administration took office in 2001. The claim was so contrary to field experience that it provoked a deeper examination of the BLS data. That examination showed that most of the decline was attributable to relaxations in OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements that were made when the Bush Administration took office. Closer examination also suggested that the relaxations had fueled more widespread, intentional underreporting by employers (see DOL Claims on Worker Safety Challenged). 

“One of the tasks of the new Administration,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, “should be a reassessment of the reporting rules and, especially, more enforcement of the requirements that are in place. As it stands, federal agencies can’t be sure real progress has been made, nor be sure how to focus efforts to make additional progress in the future.”

The 2007 data for construction saw the highest injury and illness rate (9.7) in the glass and glazing classification. Other rates included roofing (6.3), residential building (4.5), non-residential building (4.7), highway (6.3) and masonry (5.0).

The most common illness or injury among construction workers was skin disease or disorders, making up 28.8 of the reported total. A chief cause of these problems is the hexavalent chromium in Portland cement, and LIUNA and the LHSFNA have consistently pressed OSHA to better enforce its sanitation standards on construction sites (see New Compliance Directive). Respiratory conditions accounted for 6.6 percent; silica is the prime culprit. Hearing loss was 2.4 percent. 

[Steve Clark]