Back pain is the most common ailment affecting quality of life, while crush injuries are the most likely to result in death – and this constitutes the biggest cost to society.
SINTEF was commissioned by the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority (NLIA) to compile a report showing the estimated annual social cost of deaths, injuries, treatment at emergency medical centres and specialist healthcare providers, sickness leave, disability pensions and reduced quality of life. All work-related. The total came to NOK 30 billion.
“63 per cent of the total costs came from years of life lost and reduced quality of life as a result of illness or injury. The direct costs of treatment, disability pensions and lost production amount to 37 per cent,” say Tarald Rohde and Karl-Gerhard Hem at SINTEF.
Socio-economic assessment Since the NLIA is responsible for the working environment and health and safety, it also wanted to gain some basic knowledge about how much the actual social costs are, which will enable it to plan and prioritise preventive work in the future.
The NLIA also wanted these social costs divided according to risk factors in the working environment. Do any organisational, chemical, biological, ergonomic or technical factors have a part to play? SINTEF was given the assignment in the summer of 2015 – and submitted its report on 1 March 2016.
Data from individual surveys “We decided to focus mainly on the direct costs and the costs caused by loss of life and illness/injury,” says Hem. “The primary basis for our work included data from registers and document analyses.”
“We have also interviewed people and institutions working with medical statistics and the working environment,” adds Tarald Rohde.
The researchers had to face numerous challenges on this assignment. Since there was no single, comprehensive register of illnesses or injuries acquired at work, they had to turn to individual surveys and evaluations.
For example, the NLIA has a list of fatalities at work. NAV keeps records on sickness leave. The Norwegian Patient Register keeps a record of treatment costs. Where the register data was inadequate, the researchers had to perform probability calculations, and also had to rely on other research.
Some of their most significant findings came from ongoing international work that is attempting to plug the information gaps. The WHO’s ‘Global burden of disease’ (GBD) was an excellent source of information about years of life lost and reduced quality of life. A total of 80 countries had submitted statistics to this study.