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An epidemiologic investigation of injury mortality among sawmill workers Barroetavena, Maria Cristina

Abstract

Sawmill jobs rank among the most hazardous occupations in Canada due to the high work-related injury morbidity and fatality rates. As little is known about the circumstances of fatal injuries in this workforce, a study of all fatal injuries (on-the-job and off-the-job) among sawmill workers was undertaken. The study population comprises over 26,000 workers from the British Columbia Sawmill Workers Cohort. We combined data from this database with B.C. Coroners Service (BCCS) and Workers' Compensation Board (BCWCB) data to analyze the facts surrounding the occurrence of fatal injuries among sawmill workers during 1950-1990. This study consisted of three components: 1) an analysis of the usefulness of the data sources available for surveillance of work-related injuries, 2) an analysis of work-related fatalities among sawmill workers for the period 1950-1990, and 3) an analysis of all fatal injuries in this workforce during 1950-1990. The WCB records alone identified more work-related fatalities than the BCCS files alone (95.4% vs. 81.8%). Each data source has specific limitations precluding a complete count of fatal injuries at the workplace. Forty cohort members were fatally injured while working at a sawmill. The work-related fatality rate was 18.3 per 100,000 person-years. The risk of fatal work-related injury was lower during 1970-1990 than during 1950-1969. Crude fatality rates were higher among workers older than 35 years and in the occupational categories of "machine operators/clearers/sorters" and "mobile equipment operators". Factors related to the workplace physical and socio-cultural environment (e.g. unsafe work station, defective equipment, safety policies) were the main contributors to fatal injuries. When compared to the general male population, sawmill workers had fewer deaths than expected from every injury type except "being caught by machinery". The group of "skilled labour" workers had the lowest risk of dying from motor vehicle crashes and suicides. Fatal motor vehicle crashes and suicides were highest among workers living in isolated mill towns. These findings have implications for prevention. Effective countermeasures should not only address a combination of factors related to the environment, the injury event and the person but these interventions should be evaluated in terms of cost-effectiveness.

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