Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)

Using BRFSS to Assess Workers’ Health

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) contains a standard set of core questions asked by every state; however, states can elect to include questions from optional modules on specific topics, as well as state-added questions. To collect important demographic information for employed adults, the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has sponsored the BRFSS industry and occupation (I&O) optional module since 2013. Participants who were employed for wages, self-employed, or out of work for less than one year at the time of their interview were defined as “employed” and were asked these two I&O questions:

  • Industry: “What kind of business or industry do you work in, for example, hospital, elementary school, clothing manufacturing, restaurant?”
  • Occupation: “What kind of work do you do, for example, registered nurse, janitor, cashier, auto mechanic?”

The workers surveyed included those who worked for small businesses and contractors, or were self-employed.  Participants’ responses were coded to 2002 U.S. Census Bureau industry and occupation numeric codes using the NIOSH Industry and Occupation Computerized Coding System and human coders. For these analyses, the Census codes were grouped into the 21 North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS, 2002) sectors and 23 Standard Occupation Classification (SOC, 2000) major groups. Branches of the U.S. armed forces were excluded from analyses because the BRFSS data are not representative for active duty military. Learn how to request access to the BRFSS I&O data.

BRFSS Industry and Occupation Optional Module: Data Description by Year

  • Number of states:  25
  • Number of currently employed respondents*:  100,700
  • Number of respondents out of work for < 1 year:  4,128
  • Number (%) of codable records included in the dataset: industry 95,562 (91.2%), occupation: 92,586 (88.3%)
  • States that used the I&O Module:  Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin.

* Note: the sample size varies by year and which states participate.

Strengths and Limitations

Please note the following about the BRFSS data:

  • Number of states:  25
  • Number of currently employed respondents*:  104,885
  • Number of respondents out of work for < 1 year:  4,183
  • Number (%) of codable records included in the dataset: industry 101,722 (93.3%), occupation: 98,060 (89.9%)
  • States that used the I&O Module:  Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington.

*Note: the sample size varies by year and which states participate.

Strengths and Limitations

Please note the following about the BRFSS data:

  • Number of states:  21
  • Number of currently employed respondents*:  102,258
  • Number of respondents out of work for < 1 year:  5,069
  • Number (%) of codable records included in the dataset: industry 92,960 (86.6%), occupation: 89,342 (83.2%)
  • States that used the I&O Module:  California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin. In addition, Washington and Wyoming used equivalent state-added I&O questions in 2013. Their data are included in the NIOSH dataset and may be used by external researchers with permission from the state BRFSS coordinators.

*Note: the sample size varies by year and which states participate.

Strengths and Limitations

Please note the following about the BRFSS data:

  • BRFSS is one of the nation’s largest and most well-established telephone surveys of health outcomes, health behaviors, and healthcare access among the non-institutionalized, U.S. adult population.
  • The sample size is large (approximately 75,000 – 100,000 currently employed individuals in each year of data) and multiple years of data can be combined.  This allows for
    • Reasonably precise estimates to be made
    • Analyses of major and detailed I&O codes

Learn how to request access to BRFSS data.

  • BRFSS uses a cross-sectional study design; therefore, causal inferences cannot be made.
  • Not all states collect I&O; therefore, BRFSS I&O data are not nationally representative.
  • I&O are not part of the sampling design; therefore, BRFSS data are not representative of individual industries and occupations.
  • Different states administer the I&O questions each year; therefore, comparisons between years need to be restricted to states that asked I&O questions in those years.
  • BRFSS data are based on self-reported responses; therefore, response (e.g. recall, social desirability) bias may be present.
    • Information on health outcomes is not validated by a health professional or medical records; therefore, responses may be subject to misclassification.
    • There may be some misclassification of I&O due to non-specific responses.

Learn how to request access to BRFSS data.

Page last reviewed: January 7, 2020