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Study: Costs of work injuries, illnesses far exceed those of deadly diseases

A recently released study sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and performed by a University of California-Davis public health science professor has made headlines in legal circles for its rather startling revelations concerning the true costs of work injuries and illnesses.

According to Professor J. Paul Leigh -- whose study is published in the latest edition of the Milbank Quarterly -- the true cost of work-related injuries and illnesses is approximately $250 billion per year. While this number is shocking on its own, consider that Leigh also determined that this is approximately $76 billion more than the annual costs associated with diabetes and $31 billion more than the annual costs associated with cancer.

He arrived at these findings by analyzing over 40 datasets provided by various agencies and institutions, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Council on Compensation Insurance, and the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, to name only a few.

"It's an incredible jigsaw puzzle, but an essential one to assemble, since it's impossible for business and policy leaders to effectively manage healthcare resources or make changes for the better without first having an accurate assessment of costs," said Leigh.

Leigh's analysis -- which centered on work-related injuries and illnesses in the year 2007 -- produced the following findings:

  • In 2007, there were 8,564,600 non-fatal and fatal work injuries, costing a total of $192 billion
  • In 2007, there were 516,100 non-fatal and fatal work-related illnesses, costing a total of $58 billion
  • In 2007, there were 59,102 work-related fatalities, a total that exceeded deaths from prostate cancer (29,093), breast cancer (40,970) and motor vehicle accidents (43,945)

(Here, Leigh determined total costs by multiplying the number of cases of a certain type of work-related injury or illness by its average cost).

Not surprisingly, one of the primary solutions offered by Leigh and his NIOSH counterparts to help lower these costs is the expansion of prevention efforts by both the federal government and various industries.

"[A] study such as this one is important for highlighting the economic burden of occupational illness," said Dr. John Howard, the director of NIOSH. "Gaining a better understanding of the burden helps NIOSH and our partners make the case that preventing work-related injuries and illnesses is part of a wise national strategy for economic recovery and growth. Such data also may inform innovative approaches for building or enhancing corporate safety and health cultures."

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.


EHS Today, "Cost of job-related illnesses exceeds costs of all cancers, diabetes and strokes" Jan. 17, 2012

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