The Government Jobs That Are (and Aren't) Becoming Safer

New data shows some public-sector workers are suffering fewer injuries and illnesses, while others aren't experiencing any improvement.
by | November 2, 2016
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Some of the most dangerous occupations -- police, firefighters and residential care facility workers, to name a few – are often found in the public sector. And new Labor Department data has found that some of the more hazardous government professions have become somewhat safer in recent years.

In all, state and local government employers reported 752,600 injuries or illnesses in 2015. That equates to about 5.1 cases per 100 full-time workers, an overall rate that’s declined marginally in recent years.

The vast majority of these cases are injuries rather than illnesses. The Labor Department classifies injuries and illnesses that result in days away from work, job restrictions or transfers as the DART rate. The following summarizes how the DART rate is trending for several prominent government occupations:

Fire Protection

Not surprisingly, firefighters historically have incurred among the highest rates of injury and illness of any occupation. Recent federal statistics depict a slight gradual decline in firefighter injuries and illnesses.

Updated fire codes and more widespread use of fire suppression systems help to limit injuries. Research from the National Fire Protection Association also suggests fire departments are getting better at promoting safety and equipping personnel with improved safety equipment.

Still, rates of injuries sustained at the scene of fires have remained relatively constant over the past 20 years, according to the group. Over half of firefighter injuries reported last year didn’t occur at fire emergency scenes, though. Falls, slips, overexertion and muscle strains account for the most frequent types of injuries.

Nursing and Residential Care Facilities

Local government nursing and residential care workers have experienced the largest recent drop in the DART injury and illness rate of any public-sector occupation recorded in the federal data. Part of that is likely a result of the rate being so high to begin with, falling from 7.3 cases per 100 workers in 2010 to 4.6 cases last year.

Similarly, state government-operated nursing and residential care facilities have also generally registered declines. About 7.4 injuries or illnesses causing missed days of work, job restrictions or transfers were reported per 100 workers last year, a rate that’s still notably higher than that of local government facilities. States, though, run psychiatric hospitals and other facilities more fraught with safety risks.

Elementary and Secondary Schools

Injury rates for school teachers aren’t particularly high relative to other professions, but they don’t appear to be improving, either. Local school employees sustained 1.9 serious injuries or illnesses per 100 workers last year, the highest annual rate recorded in federal data since at least 2008.

Falls and slips account for the most frequently reported injuries, followed by overexertion and violence.

By comparison, those working at state colleges and universities suffer far fewer job-related injuries or illnesses, occurring about half as often as elementary and secondary education employees.

Transportation

Transportation workers also tend to incur greater safety risks than most other public- or private-sector occupations.  Data for local government transportation employees, which also includes warehousing, suggests little change has taken place in recent years:

Data for Other Government Occupations

This table lists numbers of injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time workers requiring days away from work, job restriction or transfer, also known as the DART rate:

Industries defined by North American Industry Classification System. See injury and illness definitions.

SOURCE: BLS Industry injury and illness data, summary table 1