NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Workplace Safety Improving

May 7, 2001

Not too long ago, working conditions for most workers were little short of horrendous. But they have steadily improved, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas (see figure).

  • As recently as the 1950s, 41 percent of all workers worked at manual occupations -- factory workers, laborers and craftsmen -- the types of jobs where workers are most likely to suffer from repetitive motion injuries.
  • Today, just 25 percent of workers are in such jobs.
  • And among manual workers, those with the greatest incidence of repetitive motion injuries -- operators and fabricators -- have fallen from 27 percent of the workforce to just 14 percent.

By contrast, there has been sharp growth in white collar jobs where workplace injuries are far less common. Such jobs have risen from 27 percent of total employment in 1950 to 60 percent today.

Even those who continue to work in dangerous occupations have seen substantial increases in safety.

  • The injury rate in manufacturing has fallen from 153 per thousand in 1973 to 80 in 1999, and from 198 to 84 in construction.
  • And in those industries that were already relatively safe, the safety rate has generally gotten better still. For example, the injury rate among those in finance, insurance and real estate fell from 24 per thousand to 16 between 1973 and 1999.
  • In fact, data show a decline in stress in almost every industry except mining since 1993.

The report concludes that the vast improvement in working conditions has been brought about not because of unions or government regulations, but because the market demanded it and made it possible.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, May 7, 2001.


Browse more articles on Government Issues