Knowing how many, who and where injuries or disease are occurring is a basic premise of preventing injuries and illnesses. If we don’t have accurate information on injury/illness occurrence, we don’t know how many resources to devote, what action(s) to take or whether the action we do take is effective.
New findings from Michigan State University and the Michigan Department of Community Health on work-related amputations, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, is the latest in a series of efforts to find better ways to identify work-related injuries and use that information to prevent similar injuries from happening in the future. In this latest work we identified 616 work-related amputations in Michigan, which was two and a half times more amputations than identified by the national system for tracking workplace injury (616 vs. 250). Not only can we identify more amputations but, unlike the Federal system, the information can be used for efforts to prevent such terrible injuries in the future, including use by OSHA to conduct enforcement inspections at the facilities where the amputations occurred.
How is it possible that such an obvious injury is missed in the official statistics? When we in our program first began our work we assumed like many others that although the official statistics missed many chronic diseases such as lung cancer from asbestos, which the employer may not be aware of because it occurred years after a person retired, that the current national system worked for an acute obvious injury such as an amputation. The U.S. system for tracking work-related injuries and illnesses is based on reporting by a sample of employers selected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Selected employers receive a survey on which they are required to report injuries and illness recorded on their OSHA log. In contrast, our work in Michigan is based on collecting medical records from hospitals, emergency departments and clinics. We perform a census, not a sample, and our reports are not dependent on an employer knowing about the injury, recording the injury, accurately completing the OSHA log and being sampled by BLS. If a doctor states an individual has had amputation, then those records are reported and reviewed.
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