The slip, fall, strain season is upon us

When you hurt yourself on the job, you become a statistic that’s eventually crunched and analyzed by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, Employment Relations Division. A team of research analysists pour over the numbers and provide a glimpse into how often Montanans hurt themselves on the job. 

“The overall rate of claims per total workers in Montana for FY16 was 5.7 per 100 workers, which was a decrease from the previous claims rate of 5.9 in FY15. The claims rate has been decreasing since FY12.” That’s the overall good news delivered in the recently released annual report. But drill down on the numbers, and the stats are not so rosy for Big Sky. 

Gallatin County racked up 2,431 total workplace injuries, giving it a rate of 5 injuries per 100 workers—a benchmark below the state average. Madison’s County’s rate is even lower at 3.6 per 100 workers. 

Of all the workers compensation claims filed in Gallatin County during FY16, 343 or 14 percent are attributed to injuries that occurred in Big Sky. By comparing yearly totals from 2012 to 2017, it shows December, January and March are peak injury times of the year. 

The most injury-prone group in Big Sky are 25- to 34-year-old males. Men in general are more likely to get dinged up on the job, accounting for 77 percent of all claims. The most common type of injuries are strains. They make up 31 percent of all incidents, followed by “Fall, Slip, or Trip” at 29 percent, “Struck by Object” at 14 percent, “Burn, Hot/Cold Exposure” at 5 percent and “Caught In, Under or Between” at 3 percent. Only 2 percent of injuries included a concussion, while a sprain or tear accounted for 42 percent. 

Given the rate of that type of injury, it’s no surprise that the most likely body part to suffer at work in Big Sky is the knee. 

“In going through the accident descriptions, 31 percent of all the lost-time claims were accidents that involved either skiing/snowboarding—19 percent—or snowy/icy conditions—12 percent,” explained Bri Lake, a research analyst at the Montana Workers’ Comp Claims Assistance Bureau, who crunched the numbers specific to injuries suffered in Big Sky. 

In her slicing and dicing of the data, Lake also turned up this unfortunate trend: While Montana’s overall injury rate per 100 workers is going down, Big Sky’s is trending upward. From 2013–2017, there’s been a 63 percent spike in injury claims, and that “may have something to do with the economic recovery in recent years,” says Kristine Ediger, another analyst with the Dept. of Labor and Industry.  

Most claims come from the construction trades—37 percent—while “Accommodation and Food Services” make up 24 percent, followed by “Arts, Entertainment and Recreation” at 8 percent. These numbers are gathered from workers employed across the entire Big Sky community, and Big Sky Resort is among the many employers tuned into this issue. 

In 2014, the resort overhauled its “accident investigation process to really hone in on the cause of accidents and subsequently the prevention of future ones. This made a significant impact in the overall safety of workers here,” according to talking points for a press event touting how “2014 was one of our safest years on record.” It’s the resort’s stated goal to “help our employees heal quicker.”

The number crunchers in Helena didn’t parse out details about the severity of the injuries reported in Big Sky. So even though the statistics show “Roofing Contractors” are less likely to be injured than those working in “Hotels and Motels,” it’s unclear if working as a bellhop is actually more risky to life and limb than hammering shingles on an icy roof. 


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