Workplace Injuries


Lead Author(s): 

Jaimo Ahn, MD, PhD, FACS
Arvind D Nana, MD
Gudrun Mirick, MD
Anna N Miller, MD, FACS

Supporting Author(s): 

Sylvia I Watkins-Castillo, PhD

Workplace injuries are tracked by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, with data published annually on these injuries. Musculoskeletal workplace injuries include fractures, bruises/contusions, and amputations, as well as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs are often cumulative and include repetitive motion injuries that occur when the body reacts to strenuous repetitive motions (i.e., bending, climbing, crawling, reaching, twisting) or overexertion. MSD injuries include sprains, strains, tears, back pain, soreness, carpal tunnel syndrome, hernia, and musculoskeletal system and connective diseases. MSD cases are more severe than the average nonfatal workplace injury or illness, typically involving an average of several additional days away from work. In 2016, the median number of days away from work for all workplace injuries was 8 days;1 for MSD injuries, the median was 12 days. (Reference Table 5D.1 PDF CSV)

Trends in Workplace Musculoskeletal Disorders

The rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses has significantly decreased during the past 25 years, potentially due in part to heightened attention to workplace safety. In 1992, more than 2.3 million cases of work-related injuries and illnesses were reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2016, the number had dropped to 892,000. A similar decline occurred in the number of MSDs. However, the relative ratio of MSDs to all workplace injuries has remained relatively steady at approximately one-third (29% to 35% range) of all workplace injuries. (Reference Table 5D.1 PDF CSV)

Men sustain workplace injuries at a higher incidence than women, with rates of 103.9 and 89.4/10,000 full-time workers, respectively, in 2016. They also are away from work an average of two days longer than women after a workplace injury. It is likely that at least a portion of the reason for this difference is the type of work involved, with men working more frequently in industries where a workplace injury is more common. Aging is a factor in median days away from work; workers less than 44 years of age had a median of less than 10 days away, while workers age 65 and over had a median of 15 days away in 2016. (Reference Table 5D.2.1 PDF CSV and Table 5D.2.2 PDF CSV)

Workplace MSD Injuries

The type of workplace injury incurred is a major factor in defining the median number of associated days away from work. Fractures have historically been, and remain, the injury associated with the highest number of days away from work. In the late 1990s, a median of 20 to 21 days away from work were reported for a fracture; since the early 2000s, the median days away has been about 30. Over the last few  years, days away from work has risen to the mid-30s. In past years, carpal tunnel syndrome was identified as a close second in terms of days away from work (ranging from 21 to 32 days over the years 1997 to 2010), it was not listed as a condition in the latest reports. Amputations and tendonitis are the other two injury types that are associated with a median of greater than 10 days away from work.

Traumatic injuries to muscles, tendons, and ligaments account for 2 in 5 (39%) injuries resulting in days away from work. Sprains and strains have an incidence per 10,000 full-time workers, which is twice that of the next listed injury (36.3/10,000 versus 16.8) in 2016. Workers between the ages of 25 and 54 sustain the largest number of nonfatal occupational injuries that involve days away from work, possibly reflecting the ages found in the workforce. (Reference Table 5D.3.1 PDF CSV; Table 5D.3.2 PDF CSV; and Table 5D.4 PDF CSV)

Cause of Injury

Overexertion, either in combination with bodily reaction or involving outside sources, is the most common cause of nonfatal injuries resulting in days away from work. Together, the two types of overexertion resulted in an incidence of 51.0 per 10,000 full-time workers in 2016, with a median of 11 to 12 days away from work. For median days away from work, repetitive motions involving microtasks had the highest median days away from work (24) but had an incidence of only 2.1 per 10,000 full-time workers. (Reference Table 5D.5 PDF CSV)

Injuries by Anatomic Site

Workers often sustain injuries that affect multiple parts of their body. However, injuries to the upper extremities (shoulder, arm, wrist, hand), trunk (including the back), and lower extremities (knee, ankle, foot, toe) far outnumber injuries to the head, neck, other body systems, and multiple parts. In 2016, about one-third of workplace injuries involving days away from work involved the upper extremities (32%), with hand injuries the most common. Trunk and lower extremity injuries each account for about a fourth of all injuries (23% each). Knee injuries are the most common lower extremity injury. Back injuries account for three-fourths of trunk injuries. (Reference Table 5D.6 PDF CSV)





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