Using Injury Data to Improve Safety

Every year, serious, nonfatal workplace injuries burden companies with approximately $60 billion in workers compensation costs. For these businesses, it’s important to gain a deeper understanding of the risks to prevent future incidents from occurring. The annual Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index lists the top 10 most common injury causes; this information can be a valuable source to assist organizations in pinpointing critical risk areas and preventing further incidents. Although this data is lagging, it can be beneficial to understand what injuries are afflicting our workplaces and how much they are costing.

Similar to previous years, overexertion leads the list of most common injury causes and accounts for $13.79 billion in direct costs, or 23% of the national burden. Overall, the top five injury causes accounted for almost 64% of the total cost burden:

  • Falls on same levels (17.7% and $10.62B),
  • Falls on lower levels (9.2% and $5.5B),
  • Struck by or caught between equipment(7.4% and $4.43B), and
  • Other exertions or bodily reactions (6.5% and $3.89B).

So, what can we learn from this data?

Liberty Mutual has determined the “most common” serious, nonfatal workplace injuries, but there are a great many more that cost our workplaces. Companies must continually decide to make the switch from being a reactive health and safety culture—responding to incidents as they occur–to becoming more proactive and working to prevent injuries before they happen.

For example, the category of “overexertion” comprises injuries associated with lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, and throwing objects. Many of these tasks (like lifting, pushing, pulling,) are common among many types of jobs and throughout many industries. With that awareness, how can we now prevent these injuries from occurring?

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from overexertion are not necessarily the result of an instantaneous or acute event; instead they may reflect more of a gradual, chronic development. They are injuries to the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, or spinal disc. So, what is the reason MSDs are still so prevalent when there are things that can be done to prevent or minimize them?

Whether a worker sits at a desk, provides bedside care in a hospital, drives a truck, or works on a production line, he or she is at risk of developing an MSD. Many people who develop MSDs do so because they continue to do their jobs regardless of the correct posture or proper way the task should be done.

There are six ergonomic risk factors that workers need to be aware of to help eliminate or reduce MSDs. Those factors are:

  • Force
  • Contact stress
  • Vibration
  • Cold (Extreme temperatures)
  • Awkward posture
  • Repetitive motion

Just “getting the job done” should not be the workers’ primary goal. Instead, the focus should be on getting the job done in the safest way possible. Performing a job “incorrectly” is actually not as difficult as one might think. While lifting, are the employees doing it in a correct manner? While typing, are their wrists resting down on the table causing contact stress for example?

There are also human costs to consider. MSDs are one of the most common causes of severe long-term pain and physical disability in America. Many workers who have surgery for a musculoskeletal disorder experience recurring problems that require additional surgery, leading to lost work time, disability and required changes in occupations for highly experienced workers.

The more we can learn and understand from what’s happening in our organizations, the better we can become. Ultimately, we have to choose to make the shift from being merely compliant with regulations, to becoming committed to health and safety and eventually ensuring we develop and maintain a true health and safety culture.