Top Five Most Expensive Workplace Injuries
Produced annually, the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index identifies the leading causes of the most disabling workplace injuries (resulting in six or more days of lost time) and ranks them by total Workers’ Compensation costs. The top five causes of injuries that occurred in 2009 (most recent data available) were: 1) overexertion, 2) fall on same level, 3) fall to lower level, 4) bodily reaction and 5) struck by object. Combined with your company’s worker injury data, the information can help prioritize the need for preventive measures and improved training.
Although the real cost of overexertion injuries has decreased 9.9 percent since 1998, it consistently tops the list. The category includes injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying or throwing and represents $12.75 billion in direct costs, more than 25 percent of the overall national burden.
Michael Smith, professor emeritus in the department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, notes that overexertion continues to be a problem because prevention requires a multidimensional and systematic approach including engineering design, training, organization and supervision. He notes that everybody engages in lifting, pulling, pushing and carrying from the time they start walking to the time they come to the workplace and believe they can do it properly. Many employees simply do not understand the risk.
This is why, in addition to assistive devices and administrative controls, employers should provide hands-on training, observing employees performing the tasks, offering guidance when they are doing it incorrectly and recognizing that personal factors such as age, physical condition and body weight will play a role. Supervisors need to observe and interact with employees to ensure proper practices and identify whether additional training is necessary.
Moreover, Smith notes that incorporating a psychosocial process into the program is necessary to understand how stress can affect safety. With the sputtering economy, employers are still doing more with less and studies indicate workers have unusually high stress levels. Even properly trained employees can become distracted and modify their work practices when they feel undue stress to get the job done rapidly or fear for their job security.
2) Falls on the same level
Ranking second with direct costs of $7.94 billion, falls on the same level have the disturbing distinction of growing in cost 34.2 percent since 1998, more than any other category. Slips and trips frequently precede this type of fall and causes include poor lighting, inadequate housekeeping, spills, ice, snow or rainwater, flooring or carpets in disrepair, uneven surfaces, lack of hand rails, cords and cables and improper footwear. Distractions, inattention, texting, coordination and balance problems, age and medication usage can also be contributing causes.
Notably, earlier studies indicate that employers perceive falls on the same level to be much less of a problem than it really is. Studying the trends and root causes of slips and falls at the workplace as well as periodic, rigorous self-inspections can result in fewer injuries and serious savings for employers.
3) Falls to lower level
Like falls on the same level, falls to lower level have grown in cost, but at a lower rate – 10.2 percent. Many of the most severe fall accidents are associated with ladders, scaffolding, or some other elevation. Improper use of equipment, human error, technical failure or simply bypassing the need for fall protection are among the common causes. In addition to appropriate equipment and enforcement, employers should help employees understand the hazards, the serious consequences of shortcuts and provide real scenarios of the exposure to falls. Proactively assessing and addressing risk at the start of a project not only reduces injuries but also reinforces a risk-aware culture.
4) Bodily reaction
Bodily reaction, which includes injuries resulting from standing, sitting, slipping, bending, climbing, reaching or tripping, and all without falling, rose 5.9 percent and ranked fourth at $5.28 billion. These injuries can occur when workers pull muscles, dislocate body parts or overstress joints while trying to prevent themselves from falling, tripping over debris or on an uneven surface. They also commonly occur from awkward lifting or using stairs or ladders with objects in their hands.
5) Struck by object
Taking the fifth place ranking was struck by an object. While many struck by object injuries occur on construction sites, they are also commonplace in offices. Distractions on and off the road, inattention to job surroundings, opening doors, improper safety protocols and so on can put workers at risk of an injury.
Understanding injury causation is a complex process. A host of factors ranging from human error, unsafe behavior, stress, and inadequate skills to unsafe conditions, insufficient training, faulty equipment, lack of supervision etc. can come into play. As the Workers’ Compensation market shows signs of hardening and recent data suggests that the longstanding historical decline of injuries may be plateauing or even increasing, it behooves employers to take a hard look at the data and their preventive practices.
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The Seltzer Group, located in Eastern Pennsylvania, specializes in developing safety, workers compensation, human resources, claims, and risk financing programs. They are a proud member of the Keystone Insurers Group and are nationally recognized for their expertise in workers compensation solutions. The Seltzer Group serves businesses and individuals locally, regionally, and on the national level.