The Praeger handbook of environmental health. Volume 4: Current issues and emerging debates. Friis RH, ed., Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2012 Jan; 4:163-184
Work-related injuries are a serious public health problem. In 2008 just over 5,200 workers died from injuries while at work. Fatal injuries usually receive a lot of attention, but nonfatal injuries also take a heavy toll. An additional 4.4 million workers are estimated to have sustained nonfatal injuries in 2008, based on employer reports, and 3.1 million workers are estimated to have received treatment in hospital emergency departments for work-related injuries and illnesses. For the more serious of these injuries, the estimated direct cost in the United States $53 billion. The majority of work-related injuries are unintentional. Work-related assaults accounted for 16 percent of fatal work-related injuries and five percent of emergency department-treated injuries in 2008. Injuries at work are caused by acute exposure to physical agents (e.g., mechanical energy, electricity, and chemicals). Although the immediate cause of injury is exposure to energy or deprivation (e.g., oxygen), injury events arise from a complex interaction of factors associated with materials, the work itself, the work environment, and the worker. These factors include physical hazards in the workplace or setting; machinery- and tool-related hazards and safety features; the designs of the workplace; the organization of work; the safety culture promoted by the employer, including worker training and the development and implementation of safe work practices; the availability and use personal protective equipment; the demographic characteristics, experience, and knowledge of the worker, and economic and social factors. Reducing exposures and hazards in the work environment is key to reducing work-related injuries.