Background: The Occupational Injury Problem
Unintentional injuries continue to rank number one in terms of working years-of-life lost in the United States. Combined sources of injury data indicated that, in 2017, unintentional occupational injuries accounted for over 4,414 deaths and 4.5 million medically consulted injuries; these injuries resulted in 70 million lost workdays during 2017, and an estimated 55 million future work days lost. The total time lost, including prior occupational injuries, was 104 million days. The total direct and indirect costs of work-related injuries were conservatively estimated at $161.5 billion. Workers in agriculture, mining, construction, and the transportation and warehousing industries are at greatest risk for occupational injuries and deaths.
In addition to these considerations, there is a need to recognize the true boundaries of the work environment. For example, the fact that up to 40 percent of all occupational fatalities in the United States are associated with motor vehicle crashes, the major cause of occupational death, identifies a need for occupational injury prevention and control programs that incorporate a scope beyond the physical confines of a workplace. Of further concern is the fact that time lost from off-the-job injuries is frequently a greater problem than for injuries incurred on-the-job (a ratio of 5.36:1) and, also, results in significant costs to both the employers and employees; off-(versus on-)the-job deaths occur at a ratio of 17.9:1. There is also evidence that children and adolescents experience occupational injuries disproportionately. While the Fair Labor Standards Act, which includes federal provisions for child labor protection, generally applies to those under the age of 16 years, 14 and 15 year-olds can be employed in many retail and service jobs. In agriculture, children under the age of 12 years can work on their parents’ farms or on farms small enough to be excluded from the provisions of the act, and in certain seasonal work. Women, workers of color, and immigrant workers, among others, are also at high risk in certain occupations.
Intentional/violent-related injuries are also recognized as a major problem in the work environment, accounting for the second major cause of occupational death, overall, exceeded only by transportation-related deaths; it is also the primary cause of occupational fatality for women. Limited data have been available from population-based studies of non-fatal intentional injuries. However, evidence from recent research conducted by some of the OIP program and other ERC faculty and students, has revealed significant problems pertinent to non-fatal violence among certain occupational groups that result in major physical, psychological, and sociological consequences to the victims, and high financial costs both to the victims and to the employers.
It is apparent that there has been a major deficiency in trained personnel who can develop injury prevention and control programs, based on sound scientific principles, to address these occupational problems adequately. The OIP program, designed to train highly qualified leaders, is among the few programs in the country that can provide unique training opportunities to meet the needs for academicians and other researchers who can ultimately impact this deficiency.
References provided upon request.