Providing a safe workplace is not only required by law; it’s the right thing to do and makes good business sense, too. Still, accidents happen. Workplace injuries hurt both employees and employers, in different ways. Physical well-being is the issue for employees, of course, whereas employee morale and fiscal health are on the line for employers.
According to the National Safety Council, a worker is injured on the job every seven seconds. That amounts to 12,600 workplace injuries every day and 4.6 million annually. In 2017, employers lost 104 million production days due to serious work-related injuries.
The 2018 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index calculated the associated workers’ compensation costs to U.S. companies at $58.5 billion annually. And that figure does not reflect such indirect expenses as the cost of business interruption, loss of production time, supervisory time to investigate the accident and replace the injured worker, and the repair of damaged equipment.
The benefits of a proactive safety program to both employees and employers are obvious: workforce well-being, business continuity and reduced costs. Proactive policies and thorough employee training encourage a culture of safety.
Understanding the sources of injury risk in the workplace helps employers develop strategies for prevention. Here are the three most common types of workplace accidents:
1. Overexertion ranks first among the leading causes of disabling injuries that cause employees to miss work. It involves repetitive motions that lead to muscle strain, like lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling or carrying objects. The 2018 Liberty Mutual Index – based on 2015 data from Liberty Mutual, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the National Academy of Social Insurance – reports that overexertion cost U.S. businesses more than $13 billion in direct costs annually.
Tips for overexertion prevention include training employees how to perform their jobs without exerting excessive physical effort, e.g., by avoiding bending, reaching and twisting when lifting. Employers also should encourage employees to take frequent short breaks – especially if they’re working in extreme temperatures – and reduce the weight of loads that must be handled manually.
2. Slips, trips and falls are the second-most common causes of workplace injuries (and deaths). Wet or oily floors, spills, loose or unanchored mats and flooring that lacks the same degree of traction in all areas are the usual culprits. Liberty Mutual calculated the related annual cost to businesses at $17 billion.
To prevent these types of accidents, employers should assess work surface conditions and remedy any factor that could decrease traction. Practice good housekeeping and ensure that ladders are used only on even surfaces. In inclement weather, take special precautions.
3. Contact with or being struck by objects or equipment rounds out the top three causes of unintentional, serious workplace injuries. The objects in question are commonly vehicles and heavy equipment – often in motion – as well as trees and building materials. Workers in agriculture, construction and manufacturing are most at risk, but firefighters, police officers, transportation employees, office workers and others can be hurt this way. Liberty Mutual says injuries related to contact with objects costs companies more than $5 billion every year.
When employees are attentive and employers educate them on job-specific hazards, the risk of being struck by an object at work is dramatically reduced. Other keys to maintaining a safe environment include equipment in good working order, thorough employee training, proper worker behavior and workplace safety assessments.
Generally speaking, employers should follow these best practices to prevent workplace injuries:
- Instill safety as a core value
- Conducting regular safety training (and requiring employee participation)
- Following safety protocols
- Seeking input from employees regarding safety concerns
- Teaching proper lifting techniques
- Using barriers, shields, guards, etc., that protect employees from hazards
- Installing non-slip flooring
Set clear, proactive policies designed to counter any known dangers and provide proper training to create safe workplace conditions. By doing so, employers can keep both their employees and bottom lines healthy.