Despite decreasing over the past decade, disabling, non-fatal injuries in the U.S. workplace still cost employers approximately $60 billion in direct compensation costs, which equates to $1 billion each week, per the 2017 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. Direct costs are those that directly impact the bottom line, including workers’ compensation payments, medical expenses and costs for legal services.
The index, which ranks the top 10 causes of disabling work-related injuries and their direct costs based on data from the Department of Labor, found that the top five injury types accounted for 63.8 percent of the total cost burden. Fortunately, organizations do not have to become a statistic.
Overexertion involving outside sources is the number one cause of disabling injury, costing $13.79 billion yearly in direct costs and accounting for 23 percent of the overall national burden. This category includes injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying or throwing objects. Ironically, it is one of the activity classes easiest to make safer through proper policies and training.
- Falls on the same level ranked number two, costing businesses $10.62 billion (17.7 percent of the total) Again, these incidents, which are also referred to as “slip, trip and fall events” are highly preventable with proper training and policy enforcement, especially as it relates to slippery surfaces.
- The next three causes, falls to a lower level (5.50 billion; 9.2 percent of the total), struck by an object or equipment ($4.43 billion; 7.4 percent of the total) and “other” exertions or bodily reactions ($3.89 billion; 6.5 percent of the total) are a mixed bag of activities where a number of factors, from carelessness on the part of another worker to machine failure can cause the event. This category points out the need for expanded policies and training, such as safety measures for working around other personnel and following routine maintenance procedures.
Interestingly, the sixth leading cause of disabling non-fatal injuries is roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicles—one of our focuses for next month.
The direct costs we cited here are not comprehensive. They do not include indirect costs, which can be considerable and include:
- Wages paid to injured workers for absences not covered by workers’ compensation;
- Wage costs related to time lost through work stoppage;
- Administrative time spent by supervisors following injuries;
- Employee training and replacement costs;
- Lost productivity related to new employee learning curves and accommodation of injured employees; and
- Replacement costs of damaged material, machinery and property.
The hard reality is that workplace injuries not only hurt workers; they can also cripple and even shutter companies. To help businesses put these costs in perspective, OSHA hosts an excellent resource, the interactive Safety Pays module, which allows business stakeholders to calculate the cost and potential impact of various workplace injuries.