From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Survey Count May Not Reflect Workplace Injury/Illness Risk

Noting that approximately 20 percent of all workers in the U.S. workforce are omitted in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Annual Survey of Occupation Illnesses and Injuries, study authors Leigh et al. recently determined that the BLS survey may underrepresent the number of nonfatal occupation injuries in the United States by 33 to 69 percent.

The BLS acknowledges that its survey design excludes certain employment categories including self-employed individuals, farms with fewer than 11 employees, federal, state and local government agencies, private household workers, and employers regulated by other federal safety and health laws.  The authors note that the omission ignores one in five employees in the U.S. workforce.

Among businesses surveyed, economic and workplace incentives may also promote underreporting.  For example, workers’ compensation premiums are influenced by past experience or an employee may feel reporting an injury could jeopardize chances of a promotion.  Several studies and database comparisons of an undercount are provided as empiric evidence by the authors.

Nonfatal injury/illness count possibilities are suggested based on a formula and assumptions.  From excluded employment categories alone, the authors estimate that over seven million cases are not counted.  When underreporting is considered, authors concluded that the BLS survey’s statistics are low by an estimated 33% to 69%.


Leigh JP, Marcin JP, Miller TR. “An Estimate of the U.S. Government’s Undercount of Nonfatal Occupational Injuries.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.  46:10-18, 2004.

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2004-03-01.