Workplace injuries and accidents are the near the top of every employer’s list of concerns.
In 2013 — the most recent year for which statistically valid injury data is available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the National Academy of Social Insurance — workplace accidents and injuries that caused employees to miss six or more days of work cost U.S. employers nearly $62 billion, according to the 2016 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. Of that $62 billion, more than 82.5 percent (more than $51 billion) can be attributed to the 10 leading causes of the most disabling work-related injuries.
“We rank the top 10 causes of the most serious, nonfatal workplace injuries by their direct costs each year to help companies improve safety, which better protects both employees and the bottom-line,” said Debbie Michel, general manager, Liberty Mutual’s National Insurance Casualty operation. “Workplace accidents impact employees’ physical, emotional and financial wellbeing. They also financially burden employers, who pay all of the medical costs related to a workplace injury, together with some portion of an injured employee’s pay. Beside these direct costs, workplace injuries also produce such indirect costs for employers as hiring temporary employees, lost productivity, quality disruptions and damage to a company’s employee engagement and external reputation.”
The study, now in its 12th year, finds that the rankings of the top leading causes are consistent with earlier findings. These findings help employers, risk managers and safety professionals make workplaces safer, lowering risk and workers’ compensation costs.
Here is the countdown of the top 10 causes and direct costs of the most disabling U.S. workplace injuries. The definitions and examples are found at the BLS website.
10. Repetitive motions involving micro-tasks
This category represents 2.9 percent of the total and amounts to $1.82 billion.
Some of these tasks may include a word processor who looks from the computer monitor to a document and back several times a day or the cashier at the local grocery store who is scanning and bagging groceries for several hours at a time.
(Photo: Kin Cheung/AP Photo)
9. Struck against object or equipment
This category of workplace injury applies to workers who are hurt by forcible contact or impact, for example, an office worker who bumps into a filing cabinet or an assembly line worker who stubs a toe on stacked parts.
These injuries account for 3 percent of the total and $1.85 billion.
8. Caught in or compressed by equipment or objects
Amounting to 3.2 percent, or $1.97 billion, these workplace injuries result from workers being caught in equipment or machinery that’s still running as well as in rolling, shifting or sliding objects.
Picture the scene in a movie in which wine barrels topple over, catching the bad guy beneath them, only in this case, it’s the employee whose job it may be to stack the barrels. Perhaps it’s the experienced worker who removes a machine guard to dislodge material that’s stuck and gets a finger caught when the machine starts moving again.
7. Slip or trip without fall
Occasionally, workers do slip or trip without hitting the ground. Think of the employee entering the workplace who slips on icy stairs but is able to grab the handrail to prevent hitting the ground. But the action of grabbing the handrail may cause the employee to injure his shoulder or wrench her knee.
Injuries in this category are 3.8 percent of the total and cost $2.35 billion.
6. Roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicle
Accounting for 4.8 percent of injuries at a cost of $2.96 billion are motor vehicle accidents.
The worker may be the driver, a passenger or a pedestrian, but the cause of the injury is an automobile, truck or motorcycle.
5. Other exertions or bodily reactions
These motions include bending, crawling, reaching, twisting, climbing or stepping, according to the BLS. Consider, for example, a roofing contractor’s employees who are continually climbing up and down ladders.
These injuries are 6.7 percent of the total, amounting to $4.15 billion.
(Photo: Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo)
4. Struck by object or equipment
This category covers a range of possible injuries, from being struck by an object dropped by a fellow worker to being caught in a swinging door or gate. Picture the construction worker on a scaffold dropping a hammer on the worker below.
These injuries account for $5.31 billion in costs, 8.6 percent of the total.
3. Falls to lower level
The roofer could fall to the ground from the roof or ladder, or an office worker standing on a stepstool, reaching for a heavy file box, could fall to the floor.
These injuries are 8.7 percent of the total, costing employers $5.40 billion.
2. Falls on same level
The second most costly workplace injury, surprisingly, is a fall on the same level. Picture the employee who is walking through the office and falls over an uneven floor surface or someone leaning too far back in an office chair and toppling over.
These injuries, costing $10.17 billion, are 16.4 percent of the total.
1. Overexertion involving an outside source
According to the data, this category ranked at the top of the leading causes of disabling injury, with costs reaching $15.08 billion, and almost a quarter of the total (24.4 percent).
The BLS explains that overexertion occurs when the physical effort of a worker who lifts, pulls, pushes, holds, carries, wields or throws an object results in an injury.
The object being handled is often heavier than the weight that a worker should be handling or the object is handled improperly. For example, lifting from a shelf that’s too high, or in a space that’s cramped.
Within the broad category of sprains, strains, and tears caused by overexertion, most incidents resulted specifically from overexertion in lifting (click to enlarge).
Risk managers should work with their carriers and workplace safety specialists to minimize injuries, lost work days and workers’ compensation costs.
With a little effort, employers can understand more about the causes of accidents and injuries in their organizations, identify the appropriate actions to reduce the number of injuries and minimize employee disabilities from workplace accidents.
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