| December 5, 2011
… And Some of Them Appear to Be Injury-Prone
Workplace injuries and illnesses are a fact of doing business. As such, employers offer packages of sick time and disability benefits to employees as part of their overall compensation package. Yet there is a growing disparity between such packages in the private sector and those in the public sector—with the latter being more generous.
One of the key tenets in economics is that incentives matter. All else being equal, we would expect a worker with more sick time would be “sick” more often to take advantage of the benefit. So if public sector workers, on average, have more generous sick time and disability benefits, do they tend to be sick and injured more often?
Recently released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shed some telling light on that question. Table 1 shows the number of workplace injuries and illnesses per 100 workers for all the major private-sector industries as compared to the public sector, both nationally and for Oklahoma.
Nationally, state-government workers (4.6) and local-government workers (6.1) experience workforce injuries and illnesses at a higher rate than the private-sector average (3.5).
In Oklahoma, the situation is less clear-cut. In the private sector, the number of workforce injuries and illnesses in Oklahoma (4.0) exceeds the national average (3.5). This private-sector injury/illness rate exceeds Oklahoma’s state-government rate (3.4) but falls significantly below Oklahoma’s local-government rate (7.1).
Overall, local government workers experience the highest level of workforce injuries and illnesses when compared to all the major private-sector industries, both nationally and in Oklahoma. While there are certainly dangerous jobs at the local level, such as police and fire protection, it would be a stretch to say they are more dangerous than all private-sector industries, especially construction, manufacturing, and trade, transportation, and utilities.
To put a finer point on it, the private-sector construction industry experiences a far lower rate of workforce injuries and illnesses ( 4.0 nationally and 4.2 in Oklahoma) than does the construction subsector of local government (9.5 nationally and 14.4 in Oklahoma).
The data provide evidence suggesting that Oklahoma’s local governments are incentivizing workers to take sick time and disability. Local governments should undertake a thorough comparative review of their workplace sick time and disability benefits to ensure that they are not out of line with the private sector. Taxpayers deserve this level of accountability with their hard-earned tax dollars, especially in these trying economic times.
Economists J. Scott Moody (M.A., George Mason University) and Wendy P. Warcholik (Ph.D., George Mason University) are OCPA research fellows.