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New study confirms epidemic of under-reporting on-the-job injuries

We’ve long known that under-reporting of on-the-job injuries was a problem in the occupational safety and health world, but a study this month in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine confirms it.

An anonymous survey administered to more than 1,000 apprentice carpenters in the Chicago and St. Louis areas found a pervasive fear that reporting a workplace injury or illness put them on the fast-track to the unemployment line. As a result, they concealed their injuries instead of facing retaliation from reporting them.

Here are some of their findings:

  • Nearly one in six respondents said that they personally knew someone hurt on the job who sought treatment through private insurance in lieu of a workers’ compensation claim.
  • About one-third of respondents said that they “rarely” or “never” reported their on-the-job injuries.
  • Nearly three-fifths of respondents reported some safety incentive or negative consequence of work-related injuries on their current jobsite.
  • Reporting of work-related injuries was 50 percent less prevalent when workers were disciplined for injury experiences.

Under-reporting of on-the-job injuries isn’t unique to the construction industry. Many other studies have confirmed similar results in a wide range of industries. 

“This study confirms our strong concern that many workers do not report injuries due to fear of reprisals,” said Tom O’Connor, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “The result is a grossly understated injury rate in some industries where this practice is common.”