Annual Price Tag for Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Reaches $250 Billion

J. Paul Leigh
J. Paul Leigh

The annual cost for occupational injuries and illnesses in the United States has reached an estimated $250 billion per year, according to a paper from UC Davis. The total is $31 billion more than the direct and indirect costs of all cancers, $76 billion more than diabetes, and $187 billion more than strokes.

Comparatively, cardiovascular disease (including stroke), cancer, and diabetes account for approximately two thirds of all deaths in the United States, reports the American Heart Association. Yet occupational injuries and illnesses do not receive the same research, medical, or public attention as these other diseases.1

Fatal and nonfatal occupational injuries in 2007 were estimated to be more than 5,600 and 8.5 million, respectively, at a cost of $6 billion and $186 billion. The number of fatal and nonfatal occupational illnesses was estimated at more than 53,000 and nearly 427,000, respectively, with cost estimates of $46 billion and $12 billion.2

Workers’ compensation covers less than 25 percent of these costs, so all members of society share the burden, concludes author J. Paul Leigh, professor of public health sciences at UC Davis. As a result, much of the costs are absorbed by employer-provided medical insurance and by Medicare and Medicaid.3
The analysis used 2007 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Council on Compensation Insurance, and the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project. Other data sources included the National Academy of Social Insurance, literature estimates of Attributable Fractions of diseases with occupational components, and national estimates for all health care costs.

The study introduces numerous methodological advances to an earlier investigation by Leigh based on data from 1992. Research funding came from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

1,2 Leigh, JP. Economic Burden of Occupational Injury and Illness in the United States. The Millbank Quarterly: A Multidisciplinary Journal of Population Health and Health Policy. 2011 Dec;89(4):728-772.

3 UC Davis press release

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