Economic burden of occupational injury and illness in the United States

Milbank Q. 2011 Dec;89(4):728-72. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0009.2011.00648.x.


Context: The allocation of scarce health care resources requires a knowledge of disease costs. Whereas many studies of a variety of diseases are available, few focus on job-related injuries and illnesses. This article provides estimates of the national costs of occupational injury and illness among civilians in the United States for 2007.

Methods: This study provides estimates of both the incidence of fatal and nonfatal injuries and nonfatal illnesses and the prevalence of fatal diseases as well as both medical and indirect (productivity) costs. To generate the estimates, I combined primary and secondary data sources with parameters from the literature and model assumptions. My primary sources were injury, disease, employment, and inflation data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as costs data from the National Council on Compensation Insurance and the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project. My secondary sources were the National Academy of Social Insurance, literature estimates of Attributable Fractions (AF) of diseases with occupational components, and national estimates for all health care costs. Critical model assumptions were applied to the underreporting of injuries, wage-replacement rates, and AFs. Total costs were calculated by multiplying the number of cases by the average cost per case. A sensitivity analysis tested for the effects of the most consequential assumptions. Numerous improvements over earlier studies included reliance on BLS data for government workers and ten specific cancer sites rather than only one broad cancer category.

Findings: The number of fatal and nonfatal injuries in 2007 was estimated to be more than 5,600 and almost 8,559,000, respectively, at a cost of $6 billion and $186 billion. The number of fatal and nonfatal illnesses was estimated at more than 53,000 and nearly 427,000, respectively, with cost estimates of $46 billion and $12 billion. For injuries and diseases combined, medical cost estimates were $67 billion (27% of the total), and indirect costs were almost $183 billion (73%). Injuries comprised 77 percent of the total, and diseases accounted for 23 percent. The total estimated costs were approximately $250 billion, compared with the inflation-adjusted cost of $217 billion for 1992.

Conclusions: The medical and indirect costs of occupational injuries and illnesses are sizable, at least as large as the cost of cancer. Workers' compensation covers less than 25 percent of these costs, so all members of society share the burden. The contributions of job-related injuries and illnesses to the overall cost of medical care and ill health are greater than generally assumed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / economics*
  • Accidents, Occupational / statistics & numerical data
  • Adult
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Data Collection / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / economics*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Population Surveillance
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology
  • United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • Workers' Compensation / economics*
  • Workers' Compensation / statistics & numerical data
  • Workplace
  • Wounds and Injuries / economics*
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology
  • Young Adult