Issue Date: July 8, 2013
Interpreting Accident Data
In their letter, “The Importance of Teaching Safety,” William Banholzer, Gary Calabrese, and Pat Confalone claim that Occupational Safety & Health Administration statistics “demonstrate that researchers are 11 times more likely to get hurt in an academic lab than in an industrial lab” (C&EN, May 6, page 2). The University of California Center for Laboratory Safety is keenly interested in understanding and preventing laboratory accidents across all sectors. So we looked more closely at this claim.
We accessed the most recent Occupational Injuries & Illnesses News Release of the Bureau of Labor Statics (BLS), which analyzes injury, illness, and fatality data from OSHA. The news release summarizes the estimated number of nonfatal occupational injuries in private industries as well as state and local government facilities in 41 states and the District of Columbia in 2011. Industries are classified by the 2007 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) manual.
Chemical manufacturing reported 17,500 injuries in 2011. Academic institutions listed under educational services reported 35,800 injuries for private institutions, 33,100 for state institutions, and 251,700 for local government institutions. Taken together, the number of injuries in educational services is 18 times higher than those in the chemical industry.
BLS, however, has normalized the injuries to account for differences in the number of employees compared to hours worked, providing a more telling incidence rate as the number of injuries per 100 full-time workers. The rate for chemical manufacturing was calculated to be 2.2 cases. Using this formula, the incidence rate for educational services was 2.0, 2.4, and 4.7 for private, state, and local government educational services, respectively. Looking more closely, we found that injury data are collected as large categories. For example, educational services include not only universities, community colleges, and professional schools but also elementary/secondary schools, which account for the high rate for local government.
Despite extensive research that included direct communication with BLS and OSHA, we were unable to explain how the authors came up with the 11-fold higher injury number in academic laboratories.
To achieve our goal of improving laboratory safety, the UC Center for Laboratory Safety will continue to gather and analyze data related to laboratory accidents and welcomes partnerships and collaborations with academia, government, and industry to bring down laboratory injuries across all sectors.
James H. Gibson
Research Project Manager
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