Research Updates

She'll be right: Under-reporting injury in the workplace

Francesca McSteen

According to one study, only 52% of work related injury and illness gets reported
Take Home Messages:

Work-related injury and illnesses are underreported.

Employees do not file workers’ compensation claims because:

  • They fear a negative response from their employer;
  • The cost is covered by other insurance; and
  • They are not aware of workers’ compensation.

Workers are more likely to file a compensation claim if they are overweight or married.

Agriculture/forestry/fishing and construction have the highest level of associated injuries, but the second lowest rate of workers’ compensation claim filings.


Why the research matters: 

Work-related injury and illness are a substantial social and economic burden. Rates of injury and estimation of costs are generally made from workers’ compensation data. However, evidence suggests that there is an underreporting of occupational injuries and illnesses in the workers’ compensation system.

This study aims to:

  • Quantify the underreporting of work-related injuries and illnesses;
  • Describe the individual reasons and predictive factors for not reporting injuries; and
  • Look at the association between different industries and rates of workers’ compensation claim filing.
What the research involved:

The study looked at data from the 2002 Washington State Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Over 2500 participants completed the telephone survey, which researchers then used to assess work-related injury and illness and to identify the factors associated with filing a workers’ compensation claim.

All participants were adults working for an employer. Self-employed workers were excluded from the study as normally these people do not have workers’ compensation coverage.

Summary of research findings:

13% of participants said that they had a work-related injury or illness over the last 12 months. However, only 52% of these workers actually filed a workers’ compensation claim.

Reasons for not filing claims were:

  • Medical costs were paid for by employers without a workers’ compensation claim;
  • Medical costs were covered by private insurance or family;
  • Workers were reluctant to file a claim as they feared retaliation from their employer; and
  • Workers were not aware of workers’ compensation coverage.

Many predictors seemed to work in opposite directions in regard to obtaining a work-related injury and the subsequent filing of a workers’ compensation claim. For example, workers who were married were less likely to obtain an injury while at work. However, once injured, they were more likely to file a compensation claim. Similarly, workers who were current smokers or binge drinkers were more likely to have an injury, but less likely to file claims.

Once an injury was sustained, the most significant factors that were associated with filing a claim were:

  • Being overweight; and
  • Being married.

As well as individual factors, the study also looked at how industry and occupation influenced work-related injury and workers’ compensation claim filing. Agriculture/forestry/fishing and construction had the highest level of associated injuries, but the second lowest rate of workers’ compensation claim filings.

Original research:

Underreporting of work-related injury or illness to workers' compensation: individual and industry factors.

Fan ZJ, Bonauto DK, Foley MP, Silverstein BA.

J Occup Environ Med. 2006 Sep;48(9):914-22.

Link to PubMed abstract