NOIRS 1997 Abstracts of the National Occupational Injury Research Symposium 1997. Washington, DC: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1997 Oct; :7
To describe occupational injury rates and workers' compensation (WC) payment rates on a major construction project. Background. Most injury rate estimates rely on survey data (Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)), analysis of WC claims, emergency room surveillance and proportionate mortality studies. These may suffer from underreporting and/or imprecise estimates of the number of workers at risk. Construction of DIA, with 31 million person hours on 2,843 contracts held by 769 contractors, provided a unique opportunity to describe the magnitude of injury on a major construction project. The airport owner implemented a project-wide WC insurance plan for all on-site workers involved in airport construction. All claims were recorded in a centralized database, as was payroll according to job classification. Injuries were treated at an on-site clinic operated by a designated medical provider; claims were generated whenever treatment was rendered. Using a computer file with all claims, payroll by contract (allowing calculation of hours at risk), and company characteristics, we calculated injury and payment rates by construction sector, company size, and year. DIA's total injury rates were over twice BLS's rates for the construction industry for each year of construction. Lost-worktime (LWT) injury rates were more comparable, but DIA's were slightly higher. The order of injury rates by SIC code was the same in both data sets, with SIC 17 (special trades) having the highest rates. Total injury rates for DIA's small contractors (1-19 employees) were three times BLS's reported rates and at least twice BLS's rates for all other company size categories. Injury rates declined significantly after the first year of DIA construction, coincident with a several-fold increase in project safety personnel. DIA's total WC payment rate of $7.06 per $100 payroll was 11 percent higher than expected loss rates reported by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, in contrast to the two-fold differential between injury occurrence at DIA and BLS survey data. Complete reporting, facilitated by the existence of a single WC plan, an on-site medical clinic and designated medical providers, produced injury rates significantly higher than previously reported. The relatively small difference between payment rates and expected loss rates suggests that underreporting is concentrated in the area of minor injuries, which we found to be associated at the contract level with major injuries. Our results suggest that underreporting of WC claims occurs and may result in sizable underestimates of the burden of injury in construction.