From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Occupational Injury/Illness – It’s a Hazy Scene

The burden of occupational injury and illness is poorly captured in existing surveys/reports/articles resulting in an obfuscated and incomplete picture as to the economic, social, and personal impact of work related disorders opines Schulte upon a literature review. Without an accurate characterization, the ability to prioritize and justify resources/policies to reduce the incidence, severity, and social consequence of occupational injury/illness is compromised

Thirty-eight studies from the scientific and governmental literature that assessed occupational injury/illness burden were reviewed. All papers were published since 1990. Analysis concentrated on the burden described, the methods used to identify the burden, and study limitations.

The publications frequently characterized work injury/illness burden in terms of morbidity, mortality, risk factor exposure, direct/indirect costs, and work disability losses. However, Schulte points out, the reports were commonly weakened by methodologic flaws and study difficulties such as:
• using data not intended for surveillance leading to an underreporting of work related injury/illness
• uneven/incomplete treatment of different risk factors
• limiting time duration until onset of disease which can inaccurately reflect actual disease incidence related to an exposure
• inaccurate population distribution of exposure to various risk factors
• confusion due to multi-causal nature of many injuries/diseases
• consistency in defining diagnostic criteria

Further, there was a lack of information involving work injury/illness social costs (the impact of industrial disorders on the workers’ emotional health/family/social networks).

The author suggests this fuzzy picture can be made sharper by:
• obtaining and analyzing surveillance and cost data related to work injury; data availability would have to increase and reporting of occupational death/injury/illness would have to improve.
• more epidemiological research that focuses on causality and clarifies complex risk factor interaction
• better data on hazard exposure and the prevalence/cost of illness
• identifying the level of cost shifting from workers’ compensation to personal insurance and Medicare
• analyzing the cost-effectiveness of occupational safety and health interventions

Article Title: Characterizing the Burden of Occupational Injury and Disease

Publication: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 47: 607-622, 2005

Author: P A Schulte

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2006-05-03.