5% Hike in Work Injuries Found in 1987

Times Labor Writer

The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Tuesday in Washington that the rate of workplace injuries and illnesses increased 5% from 1986 to 1987.

The rate increased to 8.3 injuries and illnesses per 100 workers from 7.9 per 100 workers.

The total number of injuries and illnesses in 1987 was 6.03 million, up from 5.63 million in 1986, the bureau said.

Janet L. Norwood, commissioner of labor statistics, said the increase was mainly in mining, manufacturing, transportation and public utilities. Although the rate dropped among construction workers, the building industry continued to have the highest rate among the major divisions--14.7 injuries and illnesses per 100 workers. There also were increases among workers in the leather, paper and rubber industries.


Nearly half of the cases in 1987, she said, were serious enough for the injured worker to have lost workdays, meaning time off from work or restricted work activity. There were 50.7 million lost workdays in 1987, contrasted with 46.7 million in 1986, the bureau said.

Norwood attributed the increase to improved record-keeping in the manufacturing and mining sectors of the economy, which traditionally have among the highest rates of injury and illness.

John A. Pendergrass, the assistant labor secretary who heads the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said the agency had anticipated an increase in the injury and illness rates because of improved reporting by the nation’s employers. He noted that OSHA had issued several large penalties against several employers in 1986 and 1987 for under-reporting injuries and illnesses among their employees, spurring more complete reporting.

He also noted that since 1986 OSHA has conducted an outreach and training effort and said the agency’s inspectors have distributed the bureau’s record-keeping guidelines at each inspected work site.


‘Too Many People Get Hurt’

Still, he said that “far too many people get hurt on the job every year in this country.”

Margaret Seminario, AFL-CIO health and safety director, said Tuesday’s report “reveals only part of the problem with OSHA’s lack of enforcement of workplace safety standards.”

She said that in high-hazard industries like construction, agriculture and logging, OSHA “has not taken any steps to prevent employers from ‘under-reporting’ work site injuries.”

Moreover, Seminario said most long-term occupational illnesses, such as asbestosis, are not recorded or reported to the government.

The bureau’s figures are based on reports gathered in a survey of 280,000 employers across the country.