Impact of COVID on Workplace Injury/Illness Rates

There’s no doubt that more employees worked from home this past year due to the pandemic than at any other time in recent history. It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, it will have on OSHA Recordkeeping Statistics and Workers’ Compensation Claims.

The pandemic has not stopped or delayed the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) efforts to collect workplace injury/illness data. This is because most of the data is collected electronically through the BLS Internet Data Collection Facility (IDCF). However, it should be noted that their efforts were somewhat limited due the availability of data collection staff and survey respondents during the height of the pandemic.

The BLS is currently collecting 2020 injury/illness data and will publish it in the fall of 2021. It will be interesting to see the impact that COVID will have on workplace injury/illness rates. Will there be a decline or increase when compared to previous years? Or will numbers remain steady?

It’s reasonable to expect to see an increase in musculoskeletal disorders (e.g., carpal tunnel, tendonitis, muscle or ligament strains) resulting from ‘less-than-ideal’ ergonomic workstations at home. Also, COVID-19 can be a recordable illness if a worker is infected as a result of performing their work-related duties and meets OSHA criteria. Even though OSHA is exercising enforcement discretion to assess employers’ efforts in making work-related determinations, I would expect that some employers will mistakenly record COVID related illnesses on their logs. Regardless, I would expect that these two factors will no doubt impact injury/illness rates in 2020.

Thanks to PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans, several employees continued to collect wages, even though they weren’t physically working. One would think this would potentially cause a decrease in injury/illness rates if employees mistakenly record their hours on their log. There could also be an argument that certain injuries such as cuts/lacerations, struck-by, slip/falls, exposure to loud noises, etc. might decrease for employees working from home or “idle” employees who are kept on payroll.

The BLS also collects fatality data, and it will be interesting to see what impact COVID has had on the overall rate of fatalities in 2020. How many COVID deaths will end up on OSHA logs? Will deaths decrease due to the corresponding decrease in work activity? Time will tell.

In addition to workplace Injury and Illness rates, Work-From-Home (WFH) employees may increase an employer’s exposure to Workers’ Compensation claims. For this reason, employers must ensure WFH offices are safe and comply with minimum company policies. Controlling an employees’ work environment at home is no easy task. If employers need help in this area, it’s best to contact their Loss Control representative from your WC insurance carrier or broker, or contact an independent safety consultant with experience in this area.

Stay tuned, we will start to see data released this fall!

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