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The State of Health in New Mexico 2018

14. Occupational Health

Healthy Workplaces Save Life, Limb, and Livelihood

It is estimated that over 800,000 New Mexicans work in a full-time job. People spend a quarter of their lifetime working for income in some capacity. As such, one's health can be directly or indirectly affected by their job. Occupational injuries and illnesses due to work are costly to workers, employers, and society, both economically and in terms of human suffering. In 2016, there were 5,000 injury or illness incidents at work reported by employers involving days away from work in New Mexico which involved nearly 17,000 work-related injuries and illnesses.

Workplace Injuries and Illnesses are Costly

Work-related illnesses, injuries and deaths have decreased by over 60% since the passing of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, but have not been eliminated. In New Mexico, over $304 million, or $404 for each covered worker, was paid out in benefits for workers' compensation insurance in 2015 (Figure 1). This likely represents a fraction of the costs of work-related illnesses and injuries, as costs are often shifted to insurance systems other than workers' compensation. The transportation and moving industry accounted for the highest workers' compensation claims, almost 15% in 2015.

Workplace Injury Fatalities

Workplace fatalities are of significant concern in New Mexico, with a fatality rate considerably higher than that of the United States. While the rate of work-related fatalities in New Mexico appears to be declining, as are rates for the US, New Mexico's rate remains well above the US rate (Figure 2). The majority of workplace fatalities in New Mexico are due to transportation incidents. In 2016, there were 41 workplace fatalities, of which 56.1% were transportation-related. From 2011 through 2016, New Mexico's occupational transportation fatality rates have been considerably higher (two to three times) than that of the U.S. (Figure 3). The second highest cause of death was contact with objects and equipment, comprising 17%. Falls were noted as the cause in 7.3% of deaths. Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction was the single industry with the largest percentage of fatalities with 31.9% of deaths.

The causes for the transportation-related fatalities can be many; however, it has been observed that seat belt usage is low in the transportation industry. Out of the 31 occupational-related transportation fatalities in 2014, 63% of the decedents were not wearing their seat belts at the time of the accident. Additionally, oil- and gas-related fatalities are also among the most common in the state, occurring most frequently as a result of motor vehicle accidents, falls, struck-by-object injuries, or electrocutions. The crude fatality rate for the oil and gas industry in New Mexico for 2016 was 31.9 per 100,000 FTEs (ages 16 and over) - over three times the US rate of 10.1 per 100,000 FTEs.

Notifiable Conditions

Public health surveillance of required, or "notifiable" conditions, helps to track various diseases and conditions and their effects. It also allows for trend analyses which can improve public health prevention and control measures if needed. When occupational illnesses and injuries are reported to NMDOH, we are able to identify at-risk populations and areas of concern, thus allowing us to strategize interventions, allocate resources and develop public health policies. In New Mexico, certain occupational illnesses that are almost always associated with workplace exposure are directly reportable to NMDOH, including asbestosis, coal worker's pneumoconiosis, mesothelioma (cancer due to asbestos exposure), occupational asthma, occupational burn hospitalizations, occupational injury death, occupational pesticide poisoning, occupational traumatic amputation, and silicosis. Other reportable conditions which can be associated with work include hypersensitivity pneumonitis and noise-induced hearing loss.

Contributing Factors

Risk and Resiliency Factors

Working in a high-risk industry or occupation is a major risk for occupational injuries and fatalities. Jobs considered high-risk are those with at least twice the national rate of illness and injury. In 2015, only 3.9% of all New Mexico workers were employed in industries at high-risk for occupational morbidity; however, 17.4% of these workers had high-risk jobs. Thus, while there were not that many high-risk industries in New Mexico, there were still high-risk jobs within those industries. Exposure to occupational hazards can have adverse affects on the human body. For example, mesothelioma and asbestosis are due to exposure to asbestos. Silicosis and coal workers' pneumoconiosis are ailments exclusive to miners, and are almost always caused by exposure to harmful or toxic contaminants.

Other risk factors for work-related injuries include increasing age, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and substance abuse. Workers in construction/extraction occupations reported a binge drinking (5 or more drinks for men or 4 for women on an occasion), prevalence (26.5%) in 2016 which was significantly higher than that reported by workers in sales, service, office, or business/management occupations. Workers in transportation occupations had the highest prevalence of obesity (25%). Males are also at risk for occupational injuries and fatalities because they are more likely to occupy high-risk morbidity jobs. Increasing age also has a negative effect on work-related injuries and fatalities. For example, in the construction industry, older workers had higher rates of fatal falls, when compared to their younger counterparts.

Most occupational illnesses and injuries are preventable. Appropriate measures can provide some protection and worker resilience if taken appropriately. Workplace policies, procedures and programs focusing on worker health and safety, and including adequate training is essential in promoting a healthy workforce. It is also important to recognize hazards specific to their job and to take precautionary actions to prevent exposure, such as wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Certain behavioral risk factors, if modified, can have a positive impact on the risk of occupational injuries. For example, lower or no consumption of alcohol and getting adequate sleep can improve one's cognitive function. Wearing seat belts while driving, whether for work or pleasure, can significantly reduce fatalities. Increasing physical activity also has a positive effect on the health, including reduced body weight, resulting in a healthier worker population.

Health Disparities

Immigrant workers are at a disadvantage when it comes to jobs. They are employed in hazardous industries such as construction, manufacturing, agriculture, moving, and cleaning, thus exposing them to dangerous working conditions, such as exposure to heat, pesticides, hazardous chemicals, and cleaning agents, as well as physical hazards such as falls. They are at increased risk for occupational injury and fatality due to the nature of the work they traditionally perform, a lack of enforced safety regulations, and limited access to health care or worker's compensation benefits.

For example, Latino immigrants face significantly higher rates of workplace fatalities, almost 50% higher than the rate of workplace fatalities among all workers, and two-thirds of occupational-related deaths among Latinos included foreign-born individuals. Language, cultural differences, social structures and lack of training are all factors that work against immigrant populations.

Assets and Resources

The New Mexico Occupational Health Surveillance Program (NMOHSP) receives almost real-time notification of worker exposure to toxins, chemicals, or pesticides by the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center (NMPDIC).

The NMOHSP partners with the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau (NMOHSB, also known as NMOSHA). NMOHSB is responsible for enforcement of the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Act, and providing safety and health assistance to employers. Workers can anonymously report to NMOHSB about unfavorable working conditions, and the employer may be investigated. With the assistance of NMOHSB, we are able to quickly identify exposed workers and identify trends. Additionally, the NMOHSP participates in events such as National Safety Stand Down to prevent falls in the construction industry, and health fairs alongside NMOHSB. With the strong partnership, we are able to provide health and safety awareness to all of New Mexico.

NMOHSP also partners with industry leaders to promote safety among workers. For example, our partnership with the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) is focused on the safety of workers in the oil and gas industry.

Expert occupational health advice is provided by our partners in other states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE).


Workplace injuries are very costly, not only to the individual, but to the employer and the economy of the state. Occupational fatality rates are high in New Mexico when compared to the United States. The top two areas of concern for occupational health in New Mexico are high rates of transportation-related injuries and fatalities in two industries, oil and gas and construction. Many risk factors and behaviors can impact the rate of work-related injuries and fatalities; however, recognizing the industrial hazards and acquiring proper training, personal protective equipment, and proper seat belt usage can prevent injuries and potential fatalities. The NMDOH is committed to ensuring all New Mexicans are safe at work and able to return to their families each night. References
  1. US Department of Labor. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016). Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities. Fatal occupational injuries in New Mexico. Retrieved Dec 22, 2017 from
  2. US Department of Labor. Occupational Safety & Health Administration. (2012). Injury and Illness Prevention Programs: White Paper. Retrieved Nov.8,2017 from
  3. State of New Mexico Workers' Compensation Administration. (2015). Workers' Compensation Administration 2015 Annual Report. Albuquerque: Author.
  4. Irobi, EO. New Mexico Epidemiology. (2016). Occupational-related transportation fatalities in New Mexico, 2013 and 2014. Santa Fe: New Mexico Department of Health.
  5. US Department of Labor. US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016). Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities. Fatal occupational injuries. Retrieved Jan 5, 2018 from
  6. Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. (n.d). Occupational health indicators. Retrieved Nov.7, 2017 from
  7. Dong, XS, Wang X, & Daw C. (2012). Fatal falls among older construction workers. Human Factors, 54(3), 303-315. doi:10.1177/0018720811410057
  8. Gany F, Novo P, Dobslaw R, & Leng J. (2014) Urban occupational health in the Mexican and Latino/Latina immigrant population: a literature review. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 16(5), 846-855. Doi:10.1007/s10903-013-9806-8
  9. Pransky G, Moshenberg D, Benjamin K, Portillo S, Thackrey JL, & Hill-Fotouhi C. (2002). Occupational risk and injuries in non-agricultural immigrant Latino workers. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 42(2), 117-123. Doi:10.1002/ajim.10092
  10. Flynn, M. (2014). NIOSH Science Blog: Safety and health for Immigrant workers. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website:

Figure 1. Workers' Compensation Costs, New Mexico and United States, 2011-2015 Workers' Compensation Costs, New Mexico and United States, 2011-2015 *All workers who are eligible for compensation should they sustain work-related injuries or illnesses are considered "covered" workers
Source: National Academy of Social Insurance
Figure 2. Occupational Injury Fatalities per 100,000 Full-Time Equivalents (FTEs), Workers Aged 16 and Over, New Mexico and U.S., 2001-2016 Occupational Injury Fatalities Per 100,000 Full-Time Equivalents (FTEs), Workers Aged 16 and Over, NM and U.S., 2001-2015 Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Figure 3. Occupational Transportation Fatalities per 100,000 FTEs, Workers Aged 16 and Over, New Mexico and US, 2013-2016 Occupational Transportation Fatalities per 100,000 FTEs, Workers Aged 16 and Over, NM and US, 2013-2015 Sources: BLS, CFOI and NIOSH Employed Labor Force Query

What is Being Done?

  • Provide quick response to investigate injuries at the worksite and provide guidance to prevent future injuries.
  • A safety campaign aimed toward the transportation and oil and gas workers in New Mexico is being developed.
  • Occupational health conditions and their determinants are tracked annually and data are submitted to NIOSH for further analysis and compiling of national data and statistics.

What Needs to be Done?

  • Reach a broader range of employers and workers via social media.
  • More discussion with various industry leaders to provide informed interventions with an emphasis on transportation safety.
  • Long-term efforts in partnerships with various state agencies, such as Department of Transportation and Worker's Compensation Administration, to collect and share data.
  • Development and distribution of occupational safety materials to improve outreach.

Related NM-IBIS Indicator Reports

The information provided above is from the New Mexico Department of Health's NM-IBIS web site ( The information published on this website may be reproduced without permission. Please use the following citation: "Retrieved Tue, 18 June 2019 from New Mexico Department of Health, Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health Web site:".

Content updated: Tue, 20 Mar 2018 15:16:58 MDT