The impact of wildfire smoke and temperature on traumatic worker injury claims, Oregon 2009-2018

2022-09-15

Background and aims: As average temperatures rise and wildfire events increase in the United States, outdoor workers may be at an increased risk of injury. Recent research suggests that heat exposure increases outdoor workers’ risk of traumatic injuries, but co-exposures of heat and wildfire smoke have not been evaluated.

Methods: Oregon workers’ compensation data from 2009 to 2018 were linked to satellite data by the date of injury to determine if acute heat (maximum Heat Index) and wildfire smoke (presence/absence) were associated with a traumatic injury. North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes were utilized to identify accepted, disabling injury claims from construction (NAICS 23) and agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting (NAICS 11). Claims from April to October were analyzed using negative binomial models to calculate incident rate ratios (IRR) by heat and wildfire exposure for All workers and specifically for Agricultural (Ag)/Construction workers.

Results: During the study period, 91,895 accepted, traumatic injury claims were analyzed. All workers had an injury IRR of 1.04 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.02-1.06) while Ag/Construction workers had an IRR of 1.11 (95% CI: 1.06-1.16) when wildfire smoke was present. When the maximum Heat Index was 75°F or greater, the IRR significantly increased as temperatures increased. When the maximum Heat Index was above 80-84°F, All workers had an IRR of 1.04 (95% CI: 1.01-1.06) while Ag/construction workers had an IRR of 1.14 (95% CI: 1.08-1.21) with risk increasing with increased temperatures. In joint models, heat remained associated with injury rates, but not wildfire smoke. No multiplicative interactions between exposures were observed.

Conclusion: Increasing temperature was associated with increased rates of traumatic injury claims in Oregon that were more pronounced in Ag/Construction workers. Future work should focus on further understanding these associations and effective injury prevention strategies.

Authors: Richard Evoy, Perry Hystad, Harold Bae, Laurel Kincl
; Full Source: Health science reports 2022 Sep 15;5(5):e820. doi: 10.1002/hsr2.820.