June 29th, 2016 11:23 am ET - John Howard, MD; Sydney Webb, PhD; and Trudi McCleery, MPH
The “S” in NIOSH could stand for science, super, or spectacular but as we all know (and maybe sometimes forget) it stands for safety. Safety is a critical part of the NIOSH mission: safety and health at work for all people through research and prevention.
Why Is Worker Safety So Important?
- -4,821 U.S. workers died from work-related injuries;
- -About 3.7 million workers suffered nonfatal injuries in the private sector and state and local governments;
–2.7 million workers were treated in emergency departments; and
–113,000 workers were hospitalized [MMWR].
The stats above show just how many workers are impacted by safety (or lack thereof) on the job. These numbers are staggering, when our research has demonstrated that workplace injury and death are preventable. The industries with the highest number of fatal injuries includes: services (1,354), construction (933), transportation/warehouse/utilities (832), agriculture/forestry/fishing (584), and trade (463). Focusing on the data can help us target industries and occupations with the greatest risk, and identify where we can make the greatest impact in protecting workers.
NIOSH has and continues to conduct a wealth of research related to worker safety. As we close out National Safety Month and the American Society of Safety Engineers holds its annual meeting we are highlighting just some of our safety-related research.
From 2003 to 2012 over 50% of the workplace homicides occurred within three occupation classifications: sales and related occupations (28%), protective service occupations (17%), and transportation and material moving occupations (13%). From 2011 to 2014, there were 54,250 nonfatal occupational injuries in the private industry from intentional injuries by other persons, which resulted in days away from work.
The Healthcare and Social Assistance Sector accounts for more than two-thirds of these injuries and illnesses each year. To learn more, visit our violence in the workplace topic page. If you’re a healthcare professional make sure to take our online violence prevention training and earn continuing education credit
Motor Vehicle Safety
Motor vehicle fatalities are the leading cause of work-related fatalities with over 22,000 deaths from 2003-2014. They represent the first or second cause of death in every major industry sector and account for 36% of all workplace fatalities. NIOSH’s Center for Motor Vehicle Safety(CMVS) works to reduce and eliminate motor vehicle crash-related injuries and fatalities. To do this, the CMVS crash-tested the patient compartment of ambulances to keep Emergency Medical Service (EMS) workers safe; measured body dimensions of truck drivers to help manufacturers design safer and ergonomically correct truck cabs; and evaluated an in-vehicle monitoring system to help workers reduce risky driving behaviors.
Falls are a persistent occupational problem that occur across industries, not just in construction. Based on 2014 published data from BLS, 261,930 private industry and state and local government workers missed one or more days of work due to injuries from falls on the same level or to lower levels, and 798 workers died from such falls. For the past five years, NIOSH has participated in the National Falls Prevention Campaign. Additionally, NIOSH offers a number of products to help prevent falls in the workplace: aerial lift simulator,ladder safety app, healthcare slips, trips, and falls guide, and practical recommendations for slips, trips, and falls in the retail industry.
Oil and Gas
The oil and gas industry has one of the highest workplace fatality rates of any industry sector, spurred in part by a large number of new, inexperienced workers seeking to make a living in the booming field of hydraulic fracturing. NIOSH and OSHA recently released a Hazard Alert regarding worker fatalities during manual tank gauging and samples in the oil and gas extraction industry. The Alert covers the safety and health hazards workers may encounter when manually gauging or sampling fluids from production, flowback, or other tanks. This Alert helps bring NIOSH research to the industry by providing recommendations to improve worker safety when manually gauging tanks.
During the last 10 years (2005-2014), mine workers sustained 64,751 non-fatal injuries resulting in lost work time and 510 miners died from work-related injuries. That’s a rate of 2,019 non-fatal injuries and 16 fatalities per 100,000 full-time employees. Slips, trips, and falls are a leading cause of injury in mining. Current NIOSH research to address these sorts of injuries includes examining the way miners get into and out of their mobile equipment, mine workers’ boot tread wear, and LED illumination on and around mining equipment. Additionally, NIOSH is conducting research to prevent mine disasters. This research includes improved designs for mine degasification, advanced atmospheric monitoring systems, and the development of an alternative explosion suppressant.
How Has Our Research Made a Difference?
NIOSH research and products help to reduce injury and fatality and build safe and capable workforces. One example is from our work in Alaska. During 1980-1989, Alaska had the highest work-related fatality rate of any state in the nation, with a rate of 34.8 deaths per 100,000 workers per year compared to the average U.S. rate of 7 deaths per 100,000 workers per year. At the invitation of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the Alaska Area Native Health Service of the Indian Health Service, NIOSH established the Alaska Field Station (AFS) in Anchorage, Alaska in 1991. From its inception, the mission of AFS was to combat the urgent problem of work-related fatalities in Alaska. AFS served as a “catalyst for change” by providing a scientific assessment of occupational safety hazards, such as identifying the state’s highest risk industries, the workers most at risk of fatality and the highest priority problems. Smart surveillance to identify hazards and tailored prevention efforts for the highest risk industries and occupations have resulted in a 77% decline in the rate of fatalities among Alaska’s workers since 1990. This was driven by the 75% decrease in the number of commercial fishing and 88% decrease in the number of pilot fatalities.
The Changing Workforce
The workforce is changing. Today, one in every five American workers is over 65 years old and by 2020 one in four will be over the age of 55 [BLS]. Through the National Center for Productive Aging and Work (NCPAW) NIOSH is working to address the needs of the aging workforce and identifying interventions and strategies to support both the workers and the organizations that employ them. Another change in the workforce is the increase of immigrant workers. The Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project estimates that immigrants will make up roughly 23% of adults of working age in 2050. Latino workers suffer significantly higher rates of workplace fatalities (5.0 per 100,000 workers) than all workers combined (4.0). (Cierpich, Styles, Harrison, et al., 2008). Targeted safety campaigns that address language and culture can help keep workers safe. See the blog on the Series of Print and Video Materials for Spanish-speaking Immigrant Workers.
Additionally, the percentage of workers in temporary arrangements has risen from 10.1% in 2005 to 15.8% in 2015. In 2015, the Government Accountability Office reported that the size of the contingent workforce can range from less than 5% to more than 33% of total employed labor force, depending on widely-varying definitions of contingent work. A growing body of research demonstrates that temporary workers have higher rates of workplace injury. Temporary workers have double the risk of suffering severe injuries on the job, including crushing incidents, lacerations, punctures and fractures [ProPublica]. A meeting co-hosted by the National Occupational Research Agenda Manufacturing and Services Sector Councils set out to address safety issues associated temporary employment. Read more on the blog.
NIOSH continues to address safety in new and emerging fields. Examples of our most recent research includes:
- Robots and exoskeletons: NIOSH is working to address the risks and benefits of using robots and exoskeletons, and develop guidance for safe interactions between humans and robots. See our recent blogs on working safely with robots and wearable exoskeletons or robotic-like suits.
- Nanotechnology: NIOSH is at the forefront of efforts to understand the safety ramifications of working with nanomaterials (see our nanotechnology topic page). NIOSH explosion testing on 20 types of carbonaceous particles showed that certain types of carbonaceous particles fall into a St 1 (Explosion) category, with properties similar to those of wood dust or coal dust.
- Wearable devices: NIOSH recently published research on the first iteration of a wearable device that monitors chemical vapors and location for workers. NIOSH is working with stakeholders to further develop the device and adapt it for the oil and gas industry and laboratory safety. For those who work alone, research is underway on a device to measure worker location and exposure in the time of an incapacitating, serious, or fatal events.
NIOSH safety research covers a wide range of workers, industries, and hazards. The topics covered in this blog highlight just a few examples of the varied research NIOSH conducts to prevent workplace injury and death.
We want to hear from you!
What are your thoughts on the greatest needs for safety research? What innovations or innovative measures are you taking to keep workers safe on the job?
John Howard, MD, Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Sydney Webb, PhD, is a Health Communications Specialist Fellow in the NIOSH Division of Safety Research.
Trudi McCleery, MPH, is a health communication specialist in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.
Cierpich, H., Styles, L., Harrison, R., et al. (2008). Work-related injury deaths among Hispanics-United States, 1992-2006. Journal of the American Medical Association, 300(21), 2479-2480.
MMWR Workers’ Memorial Day — April 28, 2016, MMWR Weekly / April 22, 2016 / 65(15);389
ProPublica. Temporary Work, Lasting Harm (2013). Accessed from:www.propublica.org/article/temporary-work-lasting-harm.