In a recent press release, the Department of Labor & Industries announced that Washington’s job sites became safer places to work in 2010, according to survey results released on October 20, 2011. This signals a trend of modest but steady improvement in workplace safety over the past a decade.
According to the Occupational Injury and Illness Survey for Washington State, approximately 5 out of every 100 full time employees in Washington State – including private as well as public sector industries – suffered some form of job-related injury or illness in 2010. This figure marks a slight decrease from a 5.3% injury rate in 2009.
The 2010 figures signal the lowest rate on record since 2003, when Washington State’s workplace injury rate was 6.9 out of 100. 2003 is the first year that L&I used the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) which is also the official recording system of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Unfortunately, within the private industry itself, the reported workplace injury and illness rate in Washington is higher than the national average. Washington workers in the private sector suffered an injury rate of 4.8 per 100 full-time workers in 2010; by comparison, the national rate is 3.5.
In a statement released by L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, Assistant Director Michael Silverstein stated that “Washington is closing the gap with the lower national rate but far too many workers still suffer serious injuries and illnesses at work.” He went on to note that “While the trend is in the right direction, it is clear that there is more work to do if we are to prevent these injuries from occurring.”
The injury and illness data for Washington State can be compared to other regions in the national survey results released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nearly every major industry sector in Washington showed improved safety records in 2010. Construction, for example, saw its on-the-job injury and illness rate drop from 8.2 in 2009 to 7.2 last year. Likewise, nursing and residential care facilities reported a decline of 11.4 injuries per 100 fulltime workers in 2009 to 9.4 injuries in 2010.
Another metric that saw marked improvement was the rate of “serious” injuries that result in missed workdays. This past year, 2.5 out of 5 workers were seriously injured or suffered illnesses that required them to take time off — or modify their work duties — while recovering. That rate represents a slight drop from 2.6 in 2009.
Yet some analysts and workers’ rights advocates argue that these figure more accurately reflect the precarious economic situation of Washington workers, rather than a genuine improvement in work conditions. These commentators point out that in today’s climate of high unemployment and slow economic recovery, employees may be more likely to show up for work after an injury out of fear of losing their jobs or other forms of retaliation from employers. Such acts of workplace retaliation are considered a form of discrimination and violate Washington law; if you have suffered an injury at work and been denied your rights by an employer, a Seattle Employment or Workers’ Compensation Attorney can help.
Washington State injury and illness rate, listed by industry: