Workplace Injuries and Illness Estimated to Cost Quarter of a Trillion Annually

All those sick days and days missed due to injuries are costing a lot more than a day at work.  According to new research by J. Paul Leigh, professor of public health sciences at the University of California at Davis, it is estimated that work injuries and sick days cost $250 billion annually with much of that cost absorbed by Medicare, Medicaid and insurance provided by employers.

The quarter of a trillion mark means that workplace injury and illness cost more than direct and indirect costs for cancer, diabetes and strokes by $31 billion, $76 billion and $187 billion respectively.

"It's unfortunate that occupational health doesn't get the attention it deserves," said Leigh. "The costs are enormous and continue to grow. And the potential for health risks are high, given that most people between the ages 22 to 65 spend 40 percent of their waking hours at work." 

This research is based on occupational injury and illness data from 2007, which in particular took into account how much these injuries cost workers. Additionally, Leigh looked at data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to also factor in underreported injuries and illnesses. Leigh arrived at the $250 billion number by taking the estimated number of cases and multiplying that by the average cost per case.  

According to the study, fatal and nonfatal workplace injuries were estimated at $192 billionwhile fatal and nonfatal workplace illnesses were estimated at $58 billion. The study also estimated a combined 9,080,100 cases of both fatal and non-fatal injury and illness with a total of 59,102 total fatalities.  According to Leigh, less than 25 percent of the above cases are covered by worker's compensation.   

"In the four decades since the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Mine Safety and Health Act were signed, there has been significant improvement in the prevention of work-related injuries and illnesses," said John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, who funded the study. "However, much work lies ahead of us, and a study such as this one is important for highlighting the economic burden of occupational illness. This data may inform innovative approaches for building or enhancing corporate safety and health cultures."

This research was published in a December issue of theMilbank Quarterly: A Multidisciplinary Journal of Population Health and Health Policyand took into account more than 40 datasets that track workplace injuries and illnesses.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily staff writer David Mielach at Dmielach@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @D_M89.