What do employee injuries cost the airline industry?

Of the 9,400 letters OSHA recently sent to workplaces with high DART rates, airlines (NAICS 481111) received only 38. That’s better than the 71 they received last year, but the decrease has more to do with the criteria for getting a letter than improvements in rates. Last year any facility with a DART rate exceeding the national average (1.9) received a letter. This year, only those exceeding their own industry average got one, so even with a DART rate more than triple the national average their number of letters declined.

In 2011 private sector “scheduled passenger air transportation” employed 399,200 and recorded an average DART rate of 6.1, placing them in the number nine position for highest rates in the U.S. that year, just behind beef cattle ranching and farming. There was some improvement from 2010, with the industry average declining from 7.0 and the range for top ten locations by DART rate also down:

  • Austin, TX (25.4)
  • Oklahoma City, OK (24)
  • Atlanta, GA (23.6)
  • El Paso, TX (23.6)
  • Harlingen, TX (21.7)
  • Honolulu, HI (21.5)
  • San Antonio (20.4)
  • Orlando, FL (20)
  • Manchester, NH (19.1)
  • Kansas City, MO (18.8)

Though at different locations, the same major airline continues to hold both of the top two spots and now six of the top ten (up from five). Some locations improved or even dropped off this list since 2010, while others climbed or appeared for the first time. Based on 2012 targeted inspection criteria, the 17 locations with DART rates above 15 should prepare for a comprehensive OSHA inspection this year.

Using the lowest end of the ranges reported by BLS, airlines lost at least 257,040 work days in 2011 from 15,310 DART-related injuries. By far the leading injuries were sprains, strains and tears of the back from container lifting, and their most frequently injured worker was a 45-54 year old male with more than five years on the job who had been at work 2-4 hours before being hurt between 8:01 a.m. and noon on Thursday. The median time out was 16 days per injury, with 40% of those injured down for 31 days or more.

What did these injuries cost the airlines? The OSHA Safety Pays calculator puts that number at $950 million, or approximately 0.7% of 2012 revenue. At a reported profit margin of only 0.1% last year, that was more than six times the combined $143.4 million earnings of the entire industry. With $950 million on the table the airline industry could more than double their 2012 profit by cutting lost-time injuries by a modest 20%.

This is a good example of an industry with inherently challenging work reflected in high DART rates and the predominance of overexertion back injuries. These are expensive and often long-term or even disabling injuries and any good solution requires extensive effort, planning and understanding of the mechanics of the problem (i.e., good JHAs). It’s also a good example of the obvious value of investing in safety.

UL’s workplace health and safety solutions help build a strong safety culture – supporting a proactive approach to managing incidents and injuries.