U.S. plastics workers suffered fewer injuries and illnesses in 1996 than in previous years. But there still is a gap between the safety performance of plastics processors and manufacturing as a whole.
Occupational injuries sustained by plastics workers declined at a slower pace than in other manufacturing industries, according to data released Dec. 17 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Companies in U.S. Standard Industrial Code 308, which covers a majority of plastic processors, reported a worker injury rate of 12.2 reportable incidents per 100 full-time employees in 1996. That's down from the 12.7 rate reported in 1995.
All manufacturers reported a 10.6 injury rate for 1996, down from 11.6 in 1995. The overall rate for all private industry, including the services sector, was 7.4 in 1996, down from 8.1 in 1995.
The 1996 injury and illness rate is the lowest since the bureau starting tracking the data in 1973, Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman noted in a Dec. 17 news release.
``Across all sectors, in nearly every category, there are fewer injuries and illnesses,'' she said. ``These reductions are the result of many factors, including employee training, employer commitment, the [Labor] Department's education and outreach initiatives and [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's] consultation services and enforcement activities.''
But the improvements are ``not good enough,'' Herman added.
``Millions of workers either lost work time or were placed on restricted work activity, often while recuperating from injuries sustained on the job,'' she said.
The bureau figures come from an annual survey of 165,000 employers in all types of private businesses. Sampling and nonsampling errors can creep into the data, affecting the rates shown, especially as the data is narrowed down to specific industries.
But the numbers BLS just released support an apparent 20-year trend of diminishing injury rates for all types of U.S. workers — including plastics.
In 1978, the worst year for injuries in the plastics industry, more than 18 out of every 100 full-time workers suffered a reportable occupational injury or illness, according to the bureau's data.
Manufacturing employees as a whole endured a 13.2 work injury rate.
Explaining small, year-to-year differences in injury statistics is difficult because of the hundreds of variables involved, said Susan Howe, technical director of worker and product safety for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., based in Washington.
``Perhaps companies are coming to realize safety really does pay,'' Howe said.
Howe noted that the safety data SPI tracks independently of the bureau also shows the number of occupational injuries are ``trending down.''
``We hope that is a trend that will continue,'' Howe said.
SPI's injury statistics, which will be released in June, are derived from voluntary reports submitted by all SPI members, including resin and machinery makers.
The BLS also breaks down injury statistics for each of the four-digit SIC codes. That gives more detail into how different groups within each industry perform, but also is more prone to statistical error.
The 1996 injury and illness rates for the various four-digit SIC codes covering plastics processing, along with their 1995 results, are:
SIC 3081: unsupported film and sheet — 8.7, 8.7
SIC 3082: unsupported profile shapes — 10.7, 12.5
SIC 3083: laminated plate and sheet — 9.2, 12.4
SIC 3084: pipe — 10.6, 14.8
SIC 3085: bottles — 10.3, 12.3
SIC 3086: foam products — 13.1, 12.4
SIC 3087: custom compounding of purchased resins —8.7, 9.9
SIC 3088: plumbing fixtures — 14.0, 14.7
SIC 3089: plastics products, not elsewhere classified — 13.1, 13.4
Beside providing safety data, the BLS numbers also offer a snapshot of changing employment figures in the plastics industry.
BLS estimates the 1996 average employment number for the 308 SIC code—which covers most plastics processing—at 713,700 people. That's up 3.4 percent from 689,900 employed in 1994, and 709,500 in 1995 for that SIC code.