The Fraction of Disability Caused at Work
Disability has high societal and personal costs, with various federal and state programs attempting to address the needs of people with disabilities. The annual cost of workplace injuries to Medicare and SSDI is roughly $30 billion. The study reported here estimates the proportion of the disabled population whose disability was caused by a workplace injury, accident, or illness. We used data from the 1992 Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative cohort study of the U.S. population. The sample consists of 9,754 men and women 51 to 61 years old in 1992 who completed an in-person questionnaire. We found that, among people 51 to 61 years old whose health limits the amount or kind of work they can do, 36% became disabled because of an accident, injury, or illness at work. Among people 51 to 61 years old who are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), 37% are disabled because of an accident, injury, or illness at work. The workplace is a more common source of disability among men than women: among SSDI recipients, 45% of men and 26% of women are disabled because of work. Because occupational injuries and illnesses are a common pathway to disability, workplace injury prevention and rehabilitation may have far greater social benefits than previously realized.