Effectiveness of source documents for identifying fatal occupational injuries: a synthesis of studies

Am J Public Health. 1991 Jun;81(6):725-8. doi: 10.2105/ajph.81.6.725.


Background: The complete and accurate identification of fatal occupational injuries among the US work force is an important first step in developing work injury prevention efforts. Numerous sources of information, such as death certificates, Workers' Compensation files, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) files, medical examiner records, state health and labor department reports, and various combinations of these, have been used to identify cases of work-related fatal injuries. Recent studies have questioned the effectiveness of these sources for identifying such cases.

Methods: At least 10 studies have used multiple sources to define the universe of fatal work injuries within a state and to determine the capture rates, or proportion of the universe identified, by each source. Results of these studies, which are not all available in published literature, are summarized here in a format that allows researchers to readily compare the ascertainment capabilities of the sources.

Results: The overall average capture rates of sources were as follows: death certificates, 81%; medical examiner records, 61%; Workers' Compensation reports, 57%; and OSHA reports 32%. Variations by state and value added through the use of multiple sources are presented and discussed.

Conclusions: This meta-analysis of 10 state-based studies summarizes the effectiveness of various source documents for capturing cases of fatal occupational injuries to help researchers make informed decisions when designing occupational injury surveillance systems.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / mortality*
  • Coroners and Medical Examiners
  • Data Collection / methods
  • Data Collection / standards*
  • Death Certificates
  • Documentation / standards*
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Population Surveillance / methods
  • State Health Planning and Development Agencies
  • United States
  • United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • Workers' Compensation