Can Sports Kill You?

Without a doubt. A total of 81 deaths in 2008 in our sector were attributable to transportation-related incidents. Workplace violence and assaults ranked second.

There are 1,928,740 employees in the NAICS Sector 71, which includes Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics highlights the following number of employees in the sports industry during 2008:

  • 12,450 athletes
  • 36,710 coaches and scouts
  • 29,900 lifeguards and ski patrolers
  • 42,290 ushers/ticket takers
  • 158,560 fitness and aerobic instructors
  • 25,640 recreation workers

While there were an estimated equivalent of 146,625 full-time employees in 2004 working in the horse racing industry, the numbers are hard to pinpoint since there are so many independent contractors working in the industry. In that industry alone, there were 79 workplace-related deaths from 1992-2006, including 28 trainers, 26 jockeys, eight exercise riders, seven grooms, and 10 employees classified as other. From 1998-2006, there were 14,200 workplace injuries in that industry.

Some professionals might think that horse racing is completely different than the sport they manage. The numbers, though, highlight that our field is just as or even more dangerous.

In 2008, there were a total of 5,071 workplace-related deaths throughout the United States. In Sector 71, there were 229 deaths in 2008. Forty of those deaths were in the category performing arts/spectator sports.

There is no most common age for people to die on the job. It would be assumed that younger, inexperienced workers would make more mistakes and would be more likely to pass away. However, the 45-54 age range was the most frequent age range, followed by 55-64. The statistics are pretty consistent across numerous areas that 75 percent of the deaths would occur to Caucasian workers, 12-14 percent would be African-American, and 10-12 percent would be Hispanic. The most common occupation in which a person passed away in our sector was the media side, where 25 people died. There also were 20 ground maintenance staffers and eight managers who died.

People die in various ways, but the most common reason for death in the industry is transportation-related accidents. A transportation-related example is a boss sending a worker on an errand, and his broadcast truck is involved in an accident on the way to a game. A total of 81 deaths in 2008 in our sector were attributable to transportation-related incidents. The second most common reason for deaths was workplace violence and assaults. In the performing arts/spectator sports area, there were 14 assaults leading to deaths in 2008.

Injury rates are compared by industries based on a relative incident rate. The incident rate for all private industries in 2008 was 113.3. Injuries in the sports industry occurred at a much more frequent rate, as highlighted in the chart below:

Category Incident rate Percent higher or lower than norm
Spectator sports 163.4 44.2
Golf courses 138.2 21.9
Skiing facilities 320.7 183.0
Marinas 178.3 57.3
Fitness & recreation 81.5 (28.1)

Thus, the injury rate in most sectors of the sports industry significantly exceed the national average. Golf courses, for example, had 95 percent more "cut" injuries and 195.5 percent more machine-related injuries, possibly from working on golf carts, retooling clubs, and working with vegetation cutting machines. Other major concerns at golf courses included a 58.3 percent increase in injuries associated with chemical and hazardous material exposure and an 84.3 percent increase in transportation-related injuries. Chemical and hazardous exposures can range from electrocutions to oxygen deficiencies (such as drowning) and are not unique just to golf courses, where pesticides are frequently used. The number of chemical-related injuries at marinas was 537.5 percent higher than the numbers for private industry.

One of the shocking numbers was the number of injuries associated with violence. The sports industry had a rate 216.6 percent higher than the rate in private industry. That number was not a fluke, and the numbers for the past several years have shown a steady growth in violence-related injuries. Thus, violence did not just produce a number of deaths, but also numerous injuries that possibly could have been prevented through an anti-violence campaign.

The numbers clearly highlighted skiing as the most dangerous industry for workers. Sprains and strains were 257.3 percent higher and fractures 341.5 percent higher than the private industry numbers. The most common body part injured for those working in the ski industry were shoulders (+370.5 percent) and knees (+797.9 percent). The most frequent activity that caused skiing-related injuries were falls on the same level (possibly slipping on wet or icy surfaces or falling on the slopes), which were 731.3 percent higher than for private industry.

What to Do
These numbers are shocking, and they show we as an industry need to do more to protect ourselves and our employees. What can a sport industry professional do? It is easy:

  • Be vigilant and look for hazards in your workplace.
  • Take workplace violence seriously, and take steps to minimize the potential and train employees in how to respond.
  • Provide employees with appropriate training so they know how to use their equipment.
  • Track workplace injuries and utilize return to work programs.
  • Bring in an industrial hygienist to help you evaluate the workplace for safety issues.
  • Subscribe to the NIOSH/NORA free newsletter, which tracks industry injuries and provides some useful hints to reduce injuries. (To add your name to the list, e-mail the author.)

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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