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Sick days make workers less likely to suffer on-the-job injuries

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Workers who can take paid time off when they are sick are less likely to suffer on-the-job injuries, according to a new study.

Employees with paid sick leave were 28 percent less likely to experience a work-related injury, compared with employees who did receive paid sick time, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found. Workers in thehighest-risk occupations, such as construction or manufacturing, may benefit the most from paid sick leave, the study found.

“Many workers may feel pressured to work while they are sick, out of fear of losing their income,” said lead researcher Abay Asfaw, a senior service fellow with the CDC. “If fewer people work while they are sick, this could lead to safer operations and fewer injuries in the work place.”

The researchers studied data collected from 38,000 workers who participated in the National Health Interview Survey between 2005 and 2008. The link between getting sick time and a reduced risk of injuries held even when researchers accounted for variables that could affect injury rates, such as age, sex and pay rate.

Injuries could be more likely to happen when workers are sick, because they could be drowsier, less focused, or taking certain medications that may impair concentration, the researchers said.

The injuries workers experienced included sprains and tears, cuts or fractures, as well longer-term injuries such as herniated discs, cartilage damage and even spinal cord injuries.

“This study highlights how our work lives and our personal health are intertwined,” said Dr. John Howard, director of CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, who was not involved in the study. The study is in line with previous research showing that employees who receive paid sick leave recover from illnesses more quickly, and suffer fewer complications from minor injuries.

The study included only private-sector workers, (all public sector workers receive paid sick leave). Of the participants, 43 percent did not have paid sick leave.

In the U.S., 40 million individuals receive paid sick time.

The study was published July 30 in the American Journal of Public Health.