Maybe it's the beaches, waves and relaxing atmosphere of the Caribbean. Or maybe the fact that workers are paid so little they don't strain themselves.

Whatever the reason, the U.S. Virgin Islands are the safest place for workers in the United States or any of its territories, according to recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have relatively low incidence rates of what the federal government agency calls "nonfatal occupational injury and illness." The incidence rate was 2.1 per 100 full-time workers in the U.S. Virgin Islands and 4.0 in Puerto Rico -- compared to a 4.4 rate in the United States. In other words, workers have twice the incidents of injuries or illnesses in the United States as they do in the Virgin Islands, or USVI, as some call it.

The rates have declined in both areas in recent years, with Virgin Island cases dropping from 2.8 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2003 to 2.1 in 2006.

So what are these injuries and why are there half as many in the Virgin Islands? One answer may that because wages are so low and the cost of living is so high in the Virgin Islands, workers can't afford to take a few days off from work so they don't report the work-related injury.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfatal occupational injuries requiring days away from work decreased 4% from 2006 to 2007, to the 2007 rate of 122 per 10,000 full-time workers. Those added up to 1.2 million cases requiring days away from work in the private industry out of 4 million cases.

The jobs with the highest number of those cases were for laborers and freight, stock and material movers, with 79,000 missed days of work in 2007, down 7% from 2006. Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants had 44,930 missed days and a rate of 465 cases per 10,000 workers, a 12% drop from 2006. Injuries for those types of jobs, which require lifting and moving things around, aren't surprising.

While tourist jobs are plentiful in the Virgin Islands, the area has a unique economy where the cost of living is high, averaging 33% higher than other U.S. jurisdictions, but the average salary is less than most other U.S. jurisdictions.

For example, take a look at this list of wages and occupations on the islands. The median hourly wage for all occupations is $11.42. Hourly wages range from the median of $6.27 for gas station attendants to $43.71 for chief executives. Doctors and surgeons earn a median hourly rate of $28.65.

Transportation and material moving jobs, which have the highest number of missed days from work, pay only $9.51 an hour overall, as a median figure, in the Virgin Islands.

Obviously, it doesn't pay to work in a job there where the chances of injuries are high. No jobs there pay too well, compared to the United States. But at least the injury rate at work is low, and the beach is never too far away.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com


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