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Non-Fatal Workplace Injuries Are Common, and Costly

Non-Fatal Workplace Injuries Are Common, and CostlyThe Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index is a yearly ranking of the most serious, nonfatal workplace injuries that took place in the United States. In addition to the compiled list of top ten workplace injuries, it also calculates the direct cost to employers in terms of medical expenses and lost wages.

According to the 2021 report, employers spend an estimated $58 billion a year on disabling workplace injuries – ones that causes employees to take off of work for at least five days in order to heal and/or be treated. Employers can use the data from the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index to become more aware of risks their employees face on their worksites. Understanding the top injuries, and what factors are most likely to cause them, may help employers prevent the injuries from occurring.

What were the Top 10 causes of disabling injuries?

Per the report, these are the top 10 causes of disabling worksite injuries:

  1. Handling objects – primary factor was heavy boxes
  2. Falls on the same level – primary factor was wet floors
  3. Falls to lower level – primary factor was wobbly ladders
  4. Being hit by objects – primary factor was falling objects
  5. Awkward postures – primary factor was stepping down from vehicles
  6. Vehicle crashes – primary factor was distracted drivers
  7. Slip/trip without a fall – primary factor was slippery/uneven walkways
  8. Colliding with objects or equipment – primary factor was fixed objects in workspace
  9. Caught in equipment/machines – primary factor was moving/rotating machine parts
  10. Repetitive motions, including microtasks – primary factor was hand/shoulder intensive work

What the data shows about specific industries

The 2021 report highlights eight different industries – construction, healthcare/social services, leisure/hospitality, manufacturing, professional services, retail, transportation/warehousing, and wholesale – as a way to see which workers are at greatest risk of which industries. In construction, for example, the greatest number of non-fatal claims involved falls to lower levels. This is “unique to construction,” the report says, and likely caused by the use of ladders. The other seven industries listed “overexertion involving outside sources” – AKA, handling objects – or falls on the same level as the primary driver of non-fatal, disabling injury in the workplace.

How much did the top workplace injuries cost employers?

Losing a billion dollars a week in productivity is a big deal, and employers should take note. Handling objects like heavy boxes accounted for $13.3 billion in losses – about a third more than falls to the same level ($10.58B) and more than double falls to lower levels ($6.26B).

For an employer who is driven by profits, these losses should be frustrating, because so many of them are preventable. Employers should provide safe, sturdy ladders to their workers, and should ensure that wet floors are clearly marked. They should be implementing safety measures that can make stepping down from a truck easier, or supplying safety belts for workers who must lift and move heavy boxes all day. Reducing other injuries may require more creative solutions. For example, employers may wish to provide floor maps to employees when they’re first hired, so they can visualize where all the “fixed objects in the workspace” are.

What types of injuries are most common in these industries?

Falls and vehicle crashes can lead to head trauma and broken bones. Crushing and slashing injuries, such as those involving moving machinery, can lead to traumatic amputation. Almost every injury on this list, however, affects the musculoskeletal system: bones, muscles, tendons, joints, cartilage, ligaments, and other tissues.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are conditions that affect a person’s musculoskeletal system. A person’s nerves, tendons, muscles, ligaments, or blood vessels can be impacted by an MSD by causing stress and strain to the injured area. It is no surprise that two of the top five workplace injuries from the Safety Index can lead to a formation of MSDs for the employee. MSDs are the highest category of workplace injuries, and account for nearly 30 percent of all workers’ days away from work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What are some of the more common MSDs that employees sustain?

Some of the more common MSDs that employees sustain at the workplace include a ligament sprain, injury to the neck or back area, and a ruptured or herniated disc. They affect every single industry listed in the 2021 Liberty Mutual report, as well as emergency services workers, educators, mechanics, and more. The nature of these types of occupations puts the employee’s body at risk of developing some type of MSD.

How can employers can improve workplace safety for employees?

There are several ways that employers can improve work safety and essentially reduce the formation of MSDs for employees. The first action employers can take is becoming better at hiring qualified workers for specific positions. During the hiring process, employers can prescreen potential employees. Employers can use the hiring process to stress the fact that the position requires heavy lifting and the ability to lift a certain amount of weight to the potential employee.

Employers can also execute better use of work techniques for the occupation. The number one injury reported on the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index was handling objects, or overexertion. To prevent employees from overexerting and potentially injuring themselves, employers can utilize certain equipment that takes the physical strain off of the employee’s body and can assist with lifting heavy items, such as dollies, carts, and forklifts. Employers can also incorporate time for employees to practice stretch exercises that will better prepare the employee’s body for the work ahead.

Employers can also utilize their training programs to introduce the facts and safety measures concerning MSDs to their employees. Before the employee begins to perform the job, it is important that he or she knows what MSDs are, how they can occur, and the safety measures employees can practice to prevent MSDs from occurring. It is also important for employers to provide a space where both employer and employee can engage in open and regular communication. This makes it easier for the employee to report any early warning signs of MSDs to the employer, as well as any potential hazards in the workplace that can cause an MSD for employees.

At Wagner & Wagner Attorneys at Law, our goal is to use our knowledge and experience to make a positive impact in every client’s life. If you or a family member has questions about or issues navigating the workers’ compensation system, speak with an experienced Chattanooga workers’ compensation lawyer at 423-756-7923, or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We also serve clients in Cleveland, TN, North Georgia, and all surrounding counties.