Bureau of Labor Statistics

Commentary says BLS undercounts injuries, illnesses

Washington – Injuries and illnesses are “significantly” undercounted in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual survey, declares a commentary published in a special issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

Because of the undercounting, the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses underestimates the number of injuries occurring in the country, which can have a detrimental effect on policy decisions, according to commentary authors Emily Spieler, who is the Edwin W. Hadley Professor of Law at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, and Gregory Wagner, a senior advisor at NIOSH.

Spieler and Wagner state that improvements are needed to make the SOII a more useful and reliable tool for gauging safety. Suggestions include:

  • Develop an alternate estimation system for occupational illnesses (the current system only captures about 10 percent).
  • Support research into under-reporting.
  • Use alternative approaches that do not rely on employer reporting, as the current system does.

Despite the downsides of the survey, the commentary states, it has value – including the ability to identify potential trends such as an increased proportion of cases that lead to restricted work rather than lost workdays.

The commentary is unrelated to a recent admission by BLS that data processing errors led to publication of inaccurate data.