Time for a New Approach

IN the end, the biggest root causes for injuries may be inattention and fatigue. This realization is monumental: It means behavior-based safety is truly valuable, hours of service rules are warranted for many industries (not just transportation), and safety in America will not be solved unless it is addressed holistically--with as much attention paid to off-the-job human factors as to contaminants, PPE, training, engineering controls, and other on-site elements.

These thoughts came to me as I read the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' first report on the time of lost-workday injuries and illnesses for the 10 occupations with the most lost-time cases. Issued in December 2004, the report analyzed 2002 data from the BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. This time analysis was possible because 2002 is the first year in which OSHA's recordkeeping rule changes made time of event, day of week, and number of hours worked prior to incident data available, BLS said.

The report's numbers are extremely interesting. Of the 1.1 million lost-workday cases in 2002 where data was available on the time of the incident, about half occurred right out of the chute, during the first four hours on the job. While cases were fairly evenly distributed on weekdays (more happened on Monday than on any other day for most of the 10 occupations, by the way), 12.8 percent of all cases occurred on Saturday and Sunday, a number I consider surprisingly high.

But look at the report's breakdown of median days away from work for recuperation according to hours worked before the injury or illness occurred. Across the board--from incidents before a shift even began, all the way up to almost 14 hours worked--median days away were 6 or 7. Then comes this spike:

Hours Worked

Number of Incidents

Percent of All Incidents

Median Days

14 hours to less than 15 hours


0.4 %


15 hours to less than 16 hours


0.4 %


16 hours to less than 17 hours


0.3 %


That is a snapshot of fatigue. While it caused a small fraction of total cases, they were the most severe in terms of costs to the employer and the injured worker. Both of the occupations where overnight or extended shifts are routine--1) truck drivers and 2) nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants--incurred 21 percent of their lost-time incidents between midnight and 8 a.m.

This column appears in the February 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the February 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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