Study Finds BLS Workplace Safety Data Understated

May 1, 2006 ( - Largely because of employer underreporting, a new study found that government data on US workplace sickness and the number of hurt workers may be inaccurate.

Michigan State University researchers found after their examination of Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) safety data that it did not count roughly two-thirds of nonfatal work-related injuries and illnesses that afflicted Michigan workers over a three-year period, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“If it’s not accurate, how do you know where to put your resources and if your interventions are effective?” said Kenneth Rosenman, professor of medicine at Michigan State University and principal author of the study, according to the Journal report.

Not only do employers underreport injuries and illnesses, according to the news report, the government survey also omits large groups of workers at employers who are not required by law to contribute data – government employees, self-employed people and workers at farms with fewer than 11 employees.

In the Michigan State study, researchers used state workers’ compensation reports to pinpoint cases where employers surveyed by the BLS had failed to report injuries and illnesses, according to the WSJ. Researchers estimated that 869,034 work-related injuries and illnesses occurred on average each year in Michigan from 1999 to 2001, compared with the BLS estimate of 281,567 per year.

Rosenman estimated that three quarters of the health issues missed by BLS resulted from employer underreporting. The study appears in the April issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Government statistics on work-related injuries and illnesses are compiled by the BLS through an annual survey of about 230,000 employers.