Researchers say the federal government may be seriously undercounting the number of occupational injuries that occur each year.

Michigan State University’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reports that in 2012, there were actually 86% more work-related skull fractures in Michigan than reported by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

BLS said in 2012, there were 170 work-related skull fracture cases in Michigan. BLS tabulates its injury numbers via direct reports from employers.

The researchers used different sources to count the injuries – records obtained from:

  • Michigan’s 134 hospitals
  • the state’s workers’ compensation agency, and
  • death certificates (six work-related skull fractures in Michigan in 2012 ended with death).

The result? The study found 316 work-related skull fractures in Michigan in 2012 – 86% more than the number BLS counted.

Some other findings from the study:

  • Facial bones were fractured most often (69%) followed by the base of the skull (19%)
  • 41% of the skull fractures were caused by “struck by” incidents; 35% were caused by falls; 15% were caused by assaults
  • In 81 of the 316 cases, the worker lost consciousness
  • Workers’ compensation paid lost work time and medical costs for 60% of cases and medical costs only for 25% of cases
  • The Health Care and Social Assistance industry had the most work-related skull fractures (26)
  • The Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting industry had the highest rate per 100,000 workers (16.4)
  • 11 of the injured workers were self-employed, and therefore weren’t required to report their injuries to BLS, and
  • 74 of the injured workers were hospitalized, and 197 were treated in the ER.

Some example cases:

  • A 33-year-old man fell 20 feet from an overpass on a construction site
  • A 28-year-old man was checking the tire pressure on a semi-truck when the tire exploded and the metal rim struck him in the face
  • A 34-year-old man was hit by a crane hook, and
  • A 37-year-old man fell 12 feet from a ladder.

What’s the practical application of this study? The researchers say better statistics can help target interventions to prevent future injuries. The uncounted injuries not only change the total numbers – there are also changes in the percentages of injury types and circumstances involved.

This isn’t the first time the team from Michigan State University uncovered BLS undercounting. In two previous studies, they found similar results when looking at work-related burns and amputations.

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