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Public Health Rep. 2011 Sep-Oct;126(5):625-34.

National trends in occupational injuries before and after 1992 and predictors of workers' compensation costs.

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Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Surgery, Boston, MA, USA.



Numbers and costs of occupational injuries and illnesses are significant in terms of morbidity and dollars, yet our understanding of time trends is minimal. We investigated trends and addressed some common hypotheses regarding causes of fluctuations.


We pulled data on incidence rates (per 100 full-time employed workers) for injuries and illnesses from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and on costs and benefits from the National Academy of Social Insurance for 1973 through 2007. Rates reflected all injury and illness cases, lost work-time cases, and cases resulting in at least 31 days away from work. We adjusted dollar costs (premiums) and benefits for inflation and measured them per employed worker. We plotted data in time-trend charts and ran linear regressions.


From 1973 to 1991, there was a weak to nonexistent downward trend for injury and illness rates, and rates were strongly and negatively correlated with the unemployment rate. From 1992 to 2007, there were strong, consistent downward trends, but no longer were there statistically significant correlations with unemployment. Significant predictors (and signs) of workers' compensation premiums for 1973-2007 included medical price inflation (positive), number of lost-time injuries (positive), the Dow Jones Industrial Average (negative), and inflation-adjusted interest rate on U.S. Treasury bonds (negative). Dollars of benefits were positively and significantly predicted by medical inflation and number of lost-time cases. For 1992-2007, the Dow Jones variable was the only robust predictor of premiums; the number of injuries was not a significant positive predictor.


We had two major conclusions. First, the year 1992 marked a sharp contrast in trends and correlations between unemployment and incidence rates for occupational injuries and illnesses. Second, for the entire time period (1973-2007), insurance carriers' premiums were strongly associated with returns on investments.

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