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The number of serious workplace injuries and illnesses, including those associated with repetitive motion, declined only slightly in 1999 after several years of sharper drops, the Labor Department said recently. There were 1.7 million injuries and illnesses serious enough to result in missed work in 1999, a 1.6% drop from 1998, the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics said in a report. The 1999 decline was far more modest than average annual drops of 4% for the six years since 1993 during which these injuries and illnesses fell by a total of 24.4%.
Truck drivers accounted for more serious illnesses and injuries than any other occupation with 141,100 in 1999, followed by nonconstruction laborers with 89,100 and nursing aides and orderlies with 75,700, the bureau said. Those three occupational groups also had the greatest frequency of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that were at issue earlier this month when Congress revoked Clinton administration rules aimed at preventing them, the bureau said. About one in five MSDs occurred in those occupations.
Sprains, strains and tears were by far the most common lost work time injuries, accounting for 43.4% of the total in 1999. The number of MSDs closely paralleled the overall trend of injuries and illness, declining 1.7% in 1999, also more modestly than the roughly 4% annual average in the previous six years in which they fell 23.7%.
MSDs, which include tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and many sprains and strains, can be caused by repetitive motion, overexertion, or twisting or bending the body. Of the MSD causes, those caused by repetitive motion — grasping tools, scanning groceries, or typing on computer keyboards — resulted in the longest absences from work, a median of 17 days, the bureau said.
The most disabling injury in terms of lost work time was carpal tunnel syndrome, where the median absence was 27 days, it said. During the congressional debate on overturning the Clinton ergonomics standard, opposed by business as overly costly, many lawmakers cited the progress that had been made in reducing MSDs since 1993. President George W. Bush signed legislation last week revoking the ergonomics standard.