Safety and Health in the Workplace

June 7, 1985

Report Outline
Tracking Casualties
Regulatory Efforts
Hazards in the Office
Special Focus

Tracking Casualties

Dispute About Decline in Injury Rates

Every hour of an average working day, one American dies from a work-related accident. Every minute of that day, by the same calculations (p. 421), 38 workers sustain injuries that cause lost work time, restrict activity or require medical attention. While no one knows for sure how many illnesses are job-related, official estimates are conservatively put at more than 100,000 annually. Occupational hazards come in many forms and are unevenly spread. Mining, construction and agriculture are the most dangerous lines of employment. Workers in these occupations often must cope with powerful machines, treacherous conditions and an array of potentially harmful chemicals. In contrast, office work presents relatively few dangers, although there are growing concerns about problems arising from the use of video display terminals and indoor air pollution.

Bad as the injury and illness figures are, they have been falling since 1979. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent report, the 1983 annual survey, shows that 7.6 injuries and illnesses occurred for every 100 full-time workers that year, a fractional drop from 7.7 in 1982 but a significant improvement over the 9.5 figure recorded in 1979. The cause of the decline is a matter of intense dispute fueled by different political perspectives.

The Reagan administration claims that the data demonstrate the effectiveness of its “non-adversary” approach to regulating workplace hazards. In contrast to aggressive regulatory efforts during the Carter years, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) now emphasizes counseling employers rather than penalizing them for violations. Critics, principally labor unions and consumer advocates, charge that the administration's emphasis on voluntary compliance amounts to regulatory abdication and has weakened worker protections. They also maintain that injury figures are not accurate because OSHA in 1981 created a powerful incentive for employers to under-report.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Workforce Protections
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May 21, 2004  Worker Safety
May 02, 2003  Asbestos Litigation
Jul. 19, 1996  Crackdown on Sexual Harassment
Aug. 09, 1991  Sexual Harassment
Apr. 13, 1990  Reforming Workers' Compensation
Mar. 09, 1990  Asbestos: Are the Risks Acceptable?
Feb. 16, 1990  Repetitive Motion: New Job Ailment
Nov. 25, 1988  Fired for No Good Cause: Is It Legal?
Jun. 07, 1985  Safety and Health in the Workplace
Dec. 24, 1976  Job Health and Safety
Sep. 26, 1947  Mine Safety
Jan. 18, 1946  Fair Practice in Employment
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Health Insurance and Managed Care
Regulation and Deregulation
Workplace Safety and Worker's Compensation