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What You Should Know About Occupational Injuries

— April 29, 2022

An injury may occur spontaneously and cause immediate harm or arise due to years of exposure to an unsafe working environment.

Across the United States, a considerable number of households survive on monthly income gained from employment. A recent CNBC article states that, in early 2022, approximately 64% of the U.S. population lived paycheck to paycheck. Since December of 2021, the number of American households living month-to-month continues to rise. The increasing costs of necessities and spiking gas prices have put a considerable strain on U.S. households. 

With many families across the nation depending on the income of one or two employed workers, even a minor illness or injury that requires time off the job can prove financially disastrous. Unfortunately, the threat of a workplace injury or illness is very real. Sometimes an accident occurs despite meticulous safety and emergency protocols. In other cases, however, workplace incidents are potentially preventable with a greater emphasis on safety, proactive management oversight, and effective decision-making.

In this article, we examine the causes and impact of occupational illnesses and injuries within the U.S. workforce. By highlighting how workplace injuries occur and what the lasting effects are upon those that are harmed, we hope to reduce unnecessary hazards and health risks. 

What Are Occupational Illnesses, Diseases, & Injuries?

Workplace injuries arise under several conditions and timeframes. An injury may occur spontaneously and cause immediate harm or arise due to years of exposure to an unsafe working environment. As an example, a factory worker harmed by a defective tool and a construction worker diagnosed with mesothelioma after years of unprotected asbestos exposure are both harmed because of their occupation. 

To clarify the different types of workplace-related incidents, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) uses the following terms.

  • Occupational illnesses are sicknesses that can be traced to a worker’s occupation or environment. The ill employee’s condition may be caused or worsened by unsafe air quality, exposure to dangerous chemicals or a toxic environment, a lack of sanitation in the workplace, or other factors. 
  • An occupational disease is a long-term condition afflicting a worker. Cancer caused by asbestos inhalation is one of the more frequently encountered occupational diseases. They are frequently detected due to their abnormally high rate amongst specific swathes of the workforce. 
  • Occupational injuries encompass all forms of direct bodily harm that occur because of workplace accidents or environmental hazards. An employee may be harmed by a predictable animal attack, radiation exposure, blood-borne pathogens, dangerous chemicals, defective equipment, or unsafe working conditions. 

Leading Causes of Nonfatal Occupational Injuries in the U.S.

Using information sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Safety Council, we were able to identify the leading causes of nonfatal occupational injuries. We looked specifically at 2020, the most recent year for which reputable data has been made publicly available. Of note:

  • Injuries from exposure to a deadly environment occurred 239 times more frequently than injuries from fire or explosions
  • Violence, whether by a person or animal(s), caused only 3.36% of occupational injuries
  • Overexertion and bodily reactions caused nearly 22% of workplace injuries

Which Industries Lost the Most Workdays to Nonfatal Occupational Injuries & Illnesses?

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For many employees, workdays lost due to injury or illness can lead to significant financial stress. A sustained absence may result in a substantially reduced income, which puts a strain on households living month-to-month. In 2019, employees across the public and private sectors missed a total of 279,060 workdays. In 2020, the number of workdays missed jumped substantially to 450,270.

Looking at days away from work by industry, we can see that nursing assistants, registered nurses, licensed practical and vocational nurses, and personal care aides were impacted the most between the two years. In 2019, nursing assistants took 27,590 days away from the workforce; this figure rose to 96,480 in 2020. This makes sense, as 2020 coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately impacted healthcare providers and medical specialists. 

Which Age Group Lost the Most Workdays to Nonfatal Occupational Injuries & Illnesses?

Having examined workdays lost by occupation, we now break down the data by worker age. From 2019 to 2020 the number of days away from work increases across every age range, as captured in the graph below. The age group with the most substantial rise of workdays missed is “35-44,” with a 26.85% increase in days away from the workplace. All but one age range experienced at least a 21% increase in days missed from 2019-2020. The percentage of workforce days missed from 2019 to 2020 are as follows:

  • 16-19: +22.14%
  • 20-24: +21.14%
  • 25-34: +24.29%
  • 35-44: +26.85%
  • 45-54: +23.5%
  • 55-64: +24.66%
  • 65+: +11.31%

Leading Causes of Fatal Occupational Injuries in the U.S.

A recent study on fatal workplace accidents put together by Jacobs & Jacobs reveals that the majority of incidents occurred in the private sector (91.29%). Transportation accidents, which caused only 3.5% of nonfatal occupational injuries, resulted in 37% of workplace deaths. In contrast, explosions and fires caused only 0.15% of nonfatal injuries and 1.49% of fatal accidents. 

Steps to Take After a Workplace Accident

Even a seemingly minor occupational illness or injury can be incredibly stressful for you and your loved ones. If you suffer harm at your workplace, try and adhere to the following steps:

  1. Report what happened to the supervisor or manager who was in charge when the incident occurred.
  2. Document any injuries sustained. Take photos of your wounds, the aftermath of the accident, and any harm suffered by other victims or bystanders. Obtain the contact information of any witnesses, if possible.
  3. Seek medical attention. You should not wait for your condition to get worse.
  4. Follow your trusted medical practitioner’s treatment plan. If you do not comply with the doctor’s orders, you may harm the chances of a successful personal injury lawsuit or expose yourself to grounds for termination. 
  5. Complete your company’s incident report form or comparable paperwork.
  6. Speak to a workers’ compensation attorney familiar with your state’s laws. If a loved one suffered fatal injuries, a local wrongful death lawyer can explain your legal options. 

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