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.

1) Overexertion

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.

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.

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.

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.