Thirteen people die every day in the United States as a direct result of their work. An industrial robot malfunctions, construction scaffolding collapses, a crucial relief valve sticks and workers die.

Scores more die every day from diseases and other medical conditions they acquired while working.

But because occupational health and safety data is notoriously incomplete, there is no data on the millions of self-employed workers who may be exposed to the same risks. There are indications too, that ethnic and racial minorities are severely underrepresented in the available data. A recent report strongly urges the U.S. to get a better grasp on the relationship between work and injuries.

Unreliable Data

The last available data regarding the cost of work-related deaths, injuries, and illnesses dates back to 2007 when it was estimated to cost $250 billion in medical costs and productivity losses. The last real attempt to examine the conditions under most American workers toil was way back in 1987 when the National Research Council tried to address the issue.

Earlier this year, a panel of experts from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine wrote a report that urges various government agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), and various state agencies to address these concerns.

The 200-page report pointed out deficiencies in data gathering particularly among the self-employed and ethnic and racial minorities. It made four main recommendations, summarized by Insurance Journal:

While the report offers numerous long and short-term recommendations, they focused four major categories during the webcast.

First, prioritize and coordinate OSHA surveillance. In addition, updates should be published on a regular basis, such as every five years to improve the health of the nation. The committee determined there should be a balanced approach across states, since some are more proactive in reporting than others.

Second, improve data collection. The experts identified gaps in safety and health surveillance that need to be addressed. For example, they called for enhancement and uniformity of information collected relating to race and ethnicity. In addition, they said it has become increasing important to know the type of employee arrangement and whether employees are contract or temporary.

Third, expand biomedical informatics use and capabilities. Essentially, the committee found that NIOSH doesn’t have the right experts in this area in-house, so the agency will need to search for outside expertise to evaluate appropriate computational methods and communication tools. In addition, this will aid in the merging of datasets from multiple sources, Seminario added.

Fourth, strengthen data analysis and information dissemination to encourage injury and illness prevention. According to David Buckeridge, a professor within the department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill University in Montreal, this is critical for analysis and objectives to be clear. This will also help to avoid duplicative reporting and offer a way to provide the information back to employers.