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Workplace Safety

Employee health and safety update: Medical device manufacturing

August 05, 2013 - Posted by Dr. Scott Harris

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Medical device manufacturing at a glance:

  • Over 370,000 workers
  • Lower than average injury rates
  • 166 sites targeted for OSHA inspection this year based on DART rates higher than their own industry average
  • Even with relatively low rates, lost time injuries cost $273 million in 2011

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) divides Medical Device Manufacturing into two sectors: devices that use electricity and those that do not. The smaller of the two, based on worker population, is Electromedical and Electrotherapeutic Apparatus Manufacturing (NAICS 334510) and includes makers of devices that use electricity (i.e., MRI, ultrasound, pacemakers, hearing aids and defibrillators). This sector reported a 2011 Total Incidence Rate of 1.9 (U.S. private industry average = 3.5) and a DART rate of 0.9 (U.S. average = 1.8) among their 62,100 workers.

The relatively low rates reflect 1,180 recordable and 559 lost-time (days away) injuries and illness. Slips, trips and falls leading to sprains and strains to the upper body were the most common injuries. Time away per injury was significant, with 30% out for 31 days or more.

This sector received only 12 OSHA inspections last year, about right for the worker population and low rates. However, based on recently revised criteria (higher than a sectors own average as opposed to higher than the U.S. average), 27 Electromedical and Electrotherapeutic Apparatus Manufacturing sites received a “High DART Rate” letter from OSHA earlier this year. The six with a DART rate above 7.0 will be inspected (unannounced) under the targeted inspection program.

The second and larger sector, Medical Equipment and Supplies Manufacturing (NAICS 33911), includes makers of non-electrical surgical and medical instruments, surgical appliances and supplies, dental equipment and supplies, orthodontic goods, ophthalmic goods, dentures and orthodontic appliances. This sector reported a 2011 Total Incidence Rate of 2.5 (U.S. avg = 3.5) and a DART rate of 1.3 (U.S. avg = 1.8) among their 309,500 workers.

Those relatively low rates reflect 7,738 recordable and 4,024 lost-time (days away) injuries and illnesses, with overexertion and “worker motion or position” leading to sprains and strains of upper extremities by far the most common injuries. Time away per injury was significant, with 33.7% out for 31 days or more.

This sector received 134 OSHA inspections last year, in line with their worker population and rates. However, 160 Medical Equipment and Supplies Manufacturing sites received the “High DART Rate letter” from OSHA, and the 26 with a DART rate above 7.0 will be targeted for unannounced inspection this year.

As a group Medical Device Manufacturing routinely posts better than average annual incidence rates compared to U.S. private industry. Dental Equipment and Supplies Manufacturing was the only sub-group in the sector to post a 2011 Total Incidence Rate (4.2) above the national average.

In summary, despite relatively low rates, Days Away injuries (4,583) cost the industry at least $273 million in direct and indirect costs (sprains average $60,000 each) and tens of thousands of lost workdays that year. It’s a good example of how being “safer than average” still drains much human and economic capital out of an industry. The numbers speak for themselves -- safety pays.

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Topics: workplace safety