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August 2008, Vol. 131, No. 8

Examining evidence on whether BLS undercounts workplace injuries and illnesses

John W. Ruser

The BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII or Survey) has come under criticism for undercounting the number of injury and illness incidents in the workplace. Estimates of the undercount range widely from 20 percent to 70 percent of all cases in some research. However, other research and analysis concludes that the size of the undercount is small. This article summarizes and critiques some of these studies and describes BLS efforts to better understand and address the undercount issue.

SOII produces annual estimates of counts and rates (number of cases per worker) of new workplace injuries and illnesses. The survey data are provided by responding employers, who draw information from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) logs and supplementary materials maintained by employers throughout the year. SOII is separate from other systems for recording workplace injuries and illnesses, (hereinafter referred to as "data systems") including workers’ compensation, trauma registries and other administrative and survey data sources.

Four dimensions of a potential undercount that can be identified are the failure to count

  1. most occupational illnesses that have a long latency period;

  2. occupational injuries and illnesses incurred by out-of-scope workers (public-sector workers, the self-employed, and workers in households and on small farms);

  3. some occupational injuries and illnesses that are reported in other data systems such as workers’ compensation; and

  4. some occupational injuries and illnesses that are not reported in any data system.

This excerpt is from an article published in the August 2008 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.

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Related BLS programs

Injuries, Illnesses, & Fatalities

Related Monthly Labor Review articles

Occupational injury and illness: new recordkeeping requirements.Dec. 2004.

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