In the U.S., private- and public-sector security and law enforcement organizations perform multiple overlapping job duties. However, analysis by investigators at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health has revealed that – at least in the state of Kentucky – injury rates vary between the sectors, as do workers’ compensation claims and payments to the injured personnel. The investigators include Mr. William S. Witt, a graduate of the College, Dr. Terry Bunn, professor of Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health and director of the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC), and Dr. Svetla Slavova, professor of Biostatistics and KIPRC faculty. Their research appears in the journal Injury Epidemiology.
Public law enforcement employees are classified as sworn and non-sworn; sworn officers possess full arresting powers, and are permitted to carry firearms and badges, while non-sworn employees provide support to primary law enforcement functions. In the U.S. there are approximately 18,000 Public sector law enforcement agencies – ranging from small local departments to large municipal and state forces – estimated to employ around 750,000 sworn and 325,000 non-sworn personnel. Across the U.S., state and local police forces constitute the majority of public sector law enforcement. In Kentucky, employment there are approximately 7,870 public-sector police and detectives, and 1,600 police and detective supervisors.
More numerous than public law enforcement officers, private security personnel are a large presence in the U.S. Private security, broadly defined, includes private detectives, guards, armored car services, and security systems services. It is estimated that 1.1 million private security guards and 29,000 private detectives and investigators are employed in the U.S., retained by a variety of firms and institutions.
The investigators utilized de-identified data from the Kentucky Department of Workers’ Claims during the period from 2005 to 2015. They found that private and public sector law enforcement and security employees in the claims system were overwhelmingly male (77 percent). Private sector workers tended to be younger, with less tenure on the job. An increased percentage of private workers were from outside Kentucky (12 percent) versus public workers (3 percent). A higher percentage of public worker injuries occurred in non-Appalachian counties (81 percent) compared to private worker injuries (77 percent).
On-the-job injury rates varied between public and private-sector personnel. In 2016, public-sector police officers and detectives experienced injury rates above the national average for all occupations, while private personnel experienced an injury rate below the national average within the private industry. In the public sector, police officers had a rate of 498.3 nonfatal injuries and illnesses involving days away from work per 10,000 full-time workers, while public sector detectives and criminal investigators had injury rates of 284.6 nonfatal injuries per 10,000 full-time workers. Significant differences were observed in causes of injury between the two sectors, with a higher percentage of sprains in the public sector compared to private (47 percent vs. 37 percent). Falls and slips accounted for 36 percent of injuries reported to workers’ compensation by private personnel, compared to 19 percent by public personnel. There were greater proportions of injuries involving motor vehicles, strains, and injuries sustained as a result of a person in the act of a crime in the public sector compared to the private sector.
The investigators found that private-sector personnel who reported injuries had a higher likelihood of receiving workers compensation compared to public-sector personnel. They posit this may represent more equitable workers’ compensation and lengthier disability for fall injuries in the private sector. The higher percentage of awarded benefits in the private sector based on an agreement with an administrative law judge could be due to a number of factors, including primary industry of employment. Another possible factor in the increased percentage of awarded benefits based on resolution of claims by an administrative law judge may be due to injury types identified in the sector. There was a higher percentage of fall injuries that resulted in back injuries in private sector compared to public law enforcement. Back injuries typically result in higher median costs per workers’ claim, and total costs for both genders, as well as longer compensation benefit. Since back claims are so costly, adjudication may occur more often to resolve monetary award disputes.
The results of the study highlight the importance of injury prevention education and worker safety training for private- and public-sector security and law enforcement workers on fall prevention (especially in the private sector) and strain prevention (especially in the public sector), as well as motor vehicle safety.