Private sector workers who have paid sick leave are less likely to be hurt on the job, researchers found.
In an analysis of health survey data, workers with paid sick leave were 28% less likely to report an occupational injury that needed medical care, according to Abay Asfaw, PhD, and colleagues at the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Washington, D.C.
Workers in jobs with a high baseline risk for injury – such as construction or manufacturing – appeared to benefit more from having access to paid sick leave, Asfaw and colleagues reported online in the American Journal of Public Health.
The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act requires public agencies and private-sector establishments to provide up to a dozen weeks of leave to eligible workers, but that time can be paid or unpaid.
“Many workers may feel pressured to work while they are sick, out of fear of losing their income,” Asfaw said in a statement, and that could lead to an increased risk of injury.
“If fewer people work while they are sick, this could lead to safer operations and fewer injuries in the workplace,” Asfaw added. However, the researchers cautioned that their data were cross-sectional in nature and could not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between paid sick leave and the incidence of workplace injuries.
The study is the first such investigation in the U.S., Asfaw and colleagues reported. It’s based on data collected by the National Health Interview Surveys from 2005 through 2008, which have samples that represent the civilian non-institutionalized population of the U.S.
Participants in the surveys were asked if they had paid sick leave and if they had suffered a workplace injury that needed medical care in the 3 months before the interview. Only private sector workers — some 38,000 — were considered in the analysis, since most public sector works have paid sick leave.
Overall, 0.8% of workers reported an occupational injury that needed medical attention, yielding an incidence rate of 3.24 per 100 full-time equivalent workers, Asfaw and colleagues wrote.
But the nonfatal injury incidence rates differed depending on access to paid sick leave — 2.59 per 100 full-time equivalent workers for those with paid sick leave compared with 4.18 per 100 full-time equivalent workers for those without.
Access to paid sick leave was stable, at about 57%, over the 4-year study period, with important variation among industry sectors. For instance, fewer than 30% of agricultural or construction workers had paid sick leave, compared with more than 65% of those in mining and healthcare, Asfaw and colleagues reported.
The association of access to paid leave and risk of injury also varied across sectors, the researchers found, with a greater impact in sectors that had a high underlying rate of injuries.
For instance, a construction worker without paid sick leave was 21% more likely to be injured on the job than a construction worker with sick leave, while the differences were smaller in such areas as services and mining, Asfaw and colleagues reported.
The survey might have missed some confounding factors (unions, occupational safety programs) and the injury data were self-reported, they noted.