7:58am

Fri February 14, 2014
Business

On-the-job injuries higher for public sector

New data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows New York state and local government employees experienced a much higher rate of injury and illness than workers in any other industry during 2012.

It may not be something you’ve ever considered, but a lot of the time, there’s an inherent risk associated with jobs in the public sector.

And, according to Nellie Brown, director of the workplace health and safety program at Cornell University, that has a big impact on statistics like these.

The BLS report states:

“Among state and local government workers in New York, about 69,000 injury and illness cases were reported in 2012, resulting in a rate of 7.0 cases per 100 full-time workers. Nationally, the rate was 5.6. Almost 78 percent of injuries and illnesses reported in New York’s public sector occurred among local government workers.”

In contrast to those figures, there were 146,300 injury and illness cases reported in the private sector, translating to a rate of 1.4 cases per 100 full time workers for the sector as a whole. The rate in each industry within the private sector differed.

“The police and firefighting, and security and prison kind of work, and water and waste water, and road and highway construction and maintenance… we sometimes expect people in the public sector to take on these risks, this is what we expect our government to do, and yet certain hazards go along with that,” says Brown.

But, other factors could also be shaping those figures.

Stephen Madarasz, spokesman for the CSEA – the union representing many public workers in New York – says the economic downturn, and the subsequent tightening of state and local budgets, has put workers at risk.

“We’ve seen a lot of people retiring so that the institutional knowledge and know-how is going out the door. And new hires, if they’re even coming in at all, are not being adequately trained and provided with equipment because there are expenses associated with that. So, we’re seeing in many cases some penny-wise and dollar-foolish budgeting choices.”

Madarasz says there’s been a spike in the number of workplace deaths in the public sector as well, averaging about one death per month during 2013.

And that is a reflection of inadequate staffing, old equipment, and a lack of training, he says.

More than half the states in the nation lack health and safety laws that protect public workers.

Madarasz says the state of New York is ahead of the curve in that respect, but last year’s figures and the BLS data show there are still issues that need to be addressed.