November 2, 2007 The Pump Handle 1Comment

Yesterday’s edition of OSHA’s “Quick Takes” e-news memo featured an item entitled “BLS Reports Workplace Injury and Illness Overall Rate Lowest on Record.” Peter Infante, former Director of the Office of Standards Review for OSHA’s Health Standards Program, was not so quick to cheer at this, though. He fired off a response to OSHA, and gave us permission to post it here:  

Dear OSHA Official:

Could someone please inform the Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao, that the reporting of injuries and illness data do not include “illnesses.”  The data are essentially injury data.  Illnesses such as non-malignant lung diseases, cancers and heart diseases that are related to the job would only be rarely, if ever recorded.  Hence, occupational sources for these diseases are not included in the data that the BLS collects in order to determine injury and illness rates for US workers.  Even in the case of mesothelioma, which can only be related to asbestos exposure, the latent period for the disease is so long that workers are unlikely to be employed on the job where the exposure occurred at the time of their diagnosis, so even an undispituable “exposure and disease connection”  as this one is not recorded as a workplace cancer.  The case is likely the same for all diseases with a long latency period.  Actually in practice, any occupational disease that is not the result of an acute illness is unlikely to be reported and the acute illnesses also are rarely recorded and hence not reported on the DOL forms used by the BLS for gathering the data used in its report. 

One can therefore conclude that the Secretary of Labor: 1)  is not informed of this problem with the data even though several National Academy of Sciences reports have addressed this issue over the years; 2) is informed of the nature of the injury and “illness” data, but is mis-representing it to the public.  In either situation, her statement about the decline in injury and illness data relates only to injuries on the job and does not relate to chronic disease caused by occupational exposures.  The public should be informed of this fact.  If government officials were a bit more accurate in their communications to the public, perhaps the government could begin to regain credibility with the public.
Peter F. Infante, DrPH
Director, Office of Standards Review
Health Standards Program

Celeste Monforton also addressed OSHA’s injury rate announcement in this recent post.

One thought on “Setting OSHA Straight on Injuries vs. Illness

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.