Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Injury Statistics: Sources and Issues

Finding solid statistics on work-related injuries is not that easy. Finding sources that provide enough context and detail for understanding is even more difficult.

In my own jurisdiction, we have a great companion document to our Annual Report and Service Plan along with some very useful special reports ( Since WorkSafeBC covers about 93% of the employed labour force, the stats are pretty representative for the jurisdiction.

On the national scale, the AWCBC hosts a useful instrument called the National Work Injury Statistics Program ( While the stats are very accurate, one has to be cautious about what the data are telling us. A listing of accepted claims is not the same as an estimate of the total number of persons injured. Why not? Aside from the problem of under-reporting which may exist to some degree in all jurisdictions, a bigger difference may well be in the scope of who is covered. In Saskatchewan or Ontario, accepted claims can only come from about 70% of the labour force whereas in Quebec or BC, accepted claims arose from a covered labour force of more than 90%. Not only are there differences in the labour force covered, the mix of industries can be substantially different.

An interesting and very accessible statistics document comes from the Chilean insurer, AHCS. This is the largest of the mutual insurers in Chile and their report contains English subtitles. I particularly liked the use of colour and charts to communicate important concepts. As with most reports, there are drawbacks. The injury rates and other information are particular to the jurisdiction and may or may not be appropriate comparators to other jurisdictions.

Using any other jurisdiction's workers' compensation data as comparators to one's own carries with it many issues. For example, in most US jurisdictions, there are waiting periods. Typically, the worker must absorb the loss of wages for three days before reaching the first day of compensation. For more serious claims, most jurisdictions have a retroactive period; if the time off work goes longer than a couple of weeks, the worker will be compensated for the waiting period. Another example comes from Australia where insurance carries with it the concept of an employer excess-- a deductible period where the employer pays the benefits for a week before the WC insurance kicks in. In both the US and Australia, the nature of the workers' compensation system may have a direct bearing on the reporting pattern and the statistics presented.

The point is simply this: the basis of injury and compensable claim counts can be quite different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. I've learned over the years that I have to look very closely at the context before making any sort of comparison or drawing any conclusions.

As far as good jurisdictional reports on injury statistics, I recommend taking a look at three listed below (or click on the sample pages pasted in this post).

  • WorkSafeBC Statistics 2007
  • CDC Worker Health Chartbook 2004
  • Chile's AHCS 2006 (bilingual Spanish and English)

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