The number of recorded workplace injuries fell by 31 percent over the last decade, according to government data. In the private sector, the number of injuries that resulted in missed work days, job restrictions, or a transfer of duties dropped to 1.8 per 100 full-time workers in 2011 from 2.6 in 2003.
Yet the decline may not be such a rosy picture as workers claim companies are retaliating against them for reporting their injuries and research shows many go unreported. The number of decided federal and state court cases involving retaliation by companies against workers who filed claims doubled since a decade ago.
Meanwhile, a study from 2011 found that only 47 percent of work-related injuries were reported all or most of the time at construction sites. A 2009 study from the Government Accountability Office reported that more than a third of health practitioners were asked by management to provide workers with treatment that wouldn’t require a formal report.
The number of workplace injuries may be declining, but the absolute numbers are still incredibly high. Workers reported 6.8 million job-related injuries and illnesses in 2011. The number of deaths is also very high, as 4,693 workers were killed on the job in that year, an average of 13 workers a day and more lives lost than during the entire Iraq War.
These accidents also come with a high economic cost. Each workplace death costs society an average of $831,000, and the total workplace injuries and illnesses in 2007 cost $250 billion due to medical and indirect expenses. That’s more than the cost of cancer.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is charged with inspecting workplaces to make sure they are safe and help employers avoid injuries and deaths, but it has been so underfunded that it struggles to do its job. The average workplace only gets a visit from an OSHA inspector every 99 years. Yet things may get even worse, as OSHA is looking at an even smaller budget thanks to sequestration, which is predicted to result in 1,200 fewer inspections.