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injury records, this change in the use of employer records may hinder efforts to
assess the results of the new policies. Third, as mentioned above, a number of
factors besides the effectiveness of OSHA can influence injury rate trends.
Foremost among these is the business cycle.
OTA has compared injury rates with several measures of the business cycle.
Figure 1 shows data for the BLS total recordable injury rate and the
unemployment rate for 1972 to 1982.
The total recordable injury rate declined
from 1973 to 1975 and again from 1979 to 1982 simultaneously with rising
In addition, the rising injury rates from 1975 to 1979
coincided with declining unemployment rates.
In Figure 2, these two variables
have been plotted against each other, with the unemployment rate on the horizontal (or x-axis) and the injury rate on the vertical (or y-axis).
Examination of this figure reveals that there appears to be an inverse
relationship between injury rates and unemployment.
That is, as unemployment
rises in a recession, injury rates decline.
Another possible measure of the business cycle is to examine the level of
employment, as opposed to the unemployment rate.
This must be done carefully
because in the last few years, the changes in the level of employment have not
been the same in all industries.
In fact, from 1979 to 1982, employment in the
more hazardous manufacturing and construction industries declined, while
employment in the other major private sector industry groups has stayed the same
Figures 3 and 4 show the relationship between employment and
lost-workday injury rates in construction and manufacturing alone.
appears to be a close relationship.
As employment rises, so do injury rates.
Additional analysis using variables that directly measure the new hire
rate, the number of overtime hours, the rate of production, and capacity
utilization in specific industries may clarify this relationship further.
Examination of the influence of new hires is, however, made more difficult
because BLS no longer publishes statistics on labor turnover, which included the
new hire rate.
But at present, it appears that the effect of the recent
recession, especially in construction and manufacturing, is the most important
factor behind the injury rate declines from 1979 to 1982.
Use of Exposure, Medical, and Death Records
Information on the extent of worker exposures to health hazards is
especially important because of the lack of an accurate accounting of the extent
of occupationally caused illness.
Exposure information can serve several
purposes: First, it can be used to quantify the extent of the problem, giving
policy makers and citizens a sense of its magnitude. Second, if collected
properly, it can be used to chart progress over time. Third, the development of
accurate and comprehensive exposure data can greatly assist in the conduct of
occupational epidemiology, the development of information for risk assessments
and economic analyses, and the creation of more reliable estimates of the size
of the occupational disease problem.
The NIOSH National Occupational Hazard Survey and National Occupational
Exposure Survey can provide information on the number of employees potentially
exposed to hazardous substances, but they provide no information on the levels
of exposure and only limited information on the durations of exposure.
of its health inspections, OSHA collects and analyzes exposure samples. These
data might be usable for developing employee exposure estimates.
In a contract
report prepared for our assessment of workplace health and safety controls, John
Mendeloff examined this health inspection data.
Based his work, we conclude
that this source of information may be useful for developing estimates of worker
exposures and should be explored further.
Medical and Death Records
Some employers maintain records of medical surveillance of their workers as
well as information on employee deaths and cause of death.
State and local
departments of vital statistics keep death certificates, which contain
information on cause of death and, in many cases, the person's usual occupation.
These records are potentially a very useful source of data for conducting
epidemiologic studies of occupational disease. Epidemiologic investigations to
discover, explore, and confirm associations between particular industries and
occupations and injuries, illnesses, and deaths can be made more efficient and
useful by certain changes in Federal data collection efforts.
Issues Concerning Occupational Injury and Illness Data
In our Assessment report we discuss a number of issues concerning Federal
data collection efforts.
There are several possible changes which could improve
improvements which could increase the usefulness of the
collected data, ensure the validity of the data, and to facilitate epidemiology.
Options to address these issues will be discussed in detail in our assessment
report, which will be delivered to the requesting committee, the House Energy
and Commerce Committee, in the near future.
One 188ue concerns the level of activity that OSHA,
NIOSH, and BLS direct towards investigating fatal and nonfatal injuries and in
preparing information from these investigations that would be useful to workers,
employers, and professionals.
Each year, Federal OSHA and the state plan
agencies investigate a large number of accidents involving fatalities and 5 or
Until relatively recently, this effort has been directed
almost solely towards questions of compliance with OSHA standards and little
attention has been paid to using the collected information to prevent future
OSHA has conducted limited analyses of several types of fatalities,
and has recently initiated a limited effort, in some areas, to distribute
summaries of construction accidents to labor unions, trade associations, and
other organizations to provide information for prevention activities.
Complementing the OSHA activities, NIOSH has begun detailed investigation
of a small number of fatal injuries.
In addition, the BLS has obtained
information concerning some types of nonfatal injuries through questionaires
completed by injured workers.
The results of these investigations could provide
useful information for worker, employer, and professional education, serve to
guide OSHA's revisions of its safety standards, and be used in directing OSHA
BLS Annual Survey.
A second issue concerns whether or not BLS is to
conduct a new "Quality Assurance Program." OTA's examination of various
estimates of the number of occupational fatalities and nonfatal injuries
revealed some differences among the various data sources for the years up to
Since 1981, employer-maintained injury records and the results of the BLS
Annual Survey have been used to grant exemptions from OSHA inspections.
of this the accuracy of these data is especially important.
In the 1970s, BLS
conducted on-site evaluations of a sample of employer responses to the Annual
Survey to verify their accuracy.
This "Quality Assurance Program
has not been
repeated since 1977.
A new effort to verify the accuracy of the data might include only an on
site evaluation of whether employer survey responses corresponded with employer
injury and illness records. Or, more ambitiously, it might attempt to learn if
the employer injury records capture all occupationally related cases.
could involve employee and employer interviews, examination of workers'
compensation, medical insurance, and sick leave records, and examination of
medical records from employers, local doctors, and hospitals.
Another area concerns creating mortality surveys to
study associations between occupations and industries and causes of death.
These studies are valuable not only for identifying high risks associated with
some types of work but also to indicate occupations and industries that do not
present high risks.
Here there are two issues of importance.
involves efforts to ensure accurate coding of industry and occupation
information on death certificates.
The second is to actually conduct these
One nation-wide mortality survey was done in the United States in the
1950's, and epidemiologists in the States of Washington and Rhode Island have
made similar studies during the last decade.
Currently, NIOSH and the National
Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) are providing technical support to a few
other states for conducting similar mortality surveys. Britain, on the other
hand, has conducted these examinations of death certificates every 10 years
Nationwide mortality analyses could provide important leads for further
study to pin down associations between work and causes of death and valuable
information about hazards in occupations which are scattered across the country,
e.g. carpenters, butchers, dry cleaners.
Currently conducted state wide