June is National Safety Month; the annual observance that focuses on creating a safer environment from the workplace to anyplace sponsored by the National Safety Council. The third topic in this month-long series is on Injury Prevention.
Occupational injuries are more commonplace than we’d like to believe. According to the National Safety Council, one worker is injured every seven seconds in the United States. In 2020, work-related, medically consulted injuries that required subsequent time away from work totaled 4 million cases. These injuries are bad news for the workers, and employers alike and they come with a hefty price tag. In its 2021 Workplace Safety Index, Liberty Mutual estimated that U.S. businesses spend more than one billion dollars a week on direct workers' compensation costs for disabling, non-fatal workplace injuries
While each of these top five issues are each concerning in and of themselves, the top three account for more than 75% of all non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses.
Exposure to harmful substances or environments
In 2020, the leading cause of work-related injury and illness requiring time away from work was exposure to harmful substances or environments. This overtook overexertion and bodily reaction for the top spot with exposures accounting for 36% of all injuries or illnesses due in part to the influx of COVID-19 infections.
However, COVID-19 infection is not the only harmful substance or environment included in these calculations. It also applies to:
- Exposure to radiation and noise
- Exposure to electricity
- Exposure to extreme temperatures
- Exposure to air or water pressure changes
Overexertion, bodily reaction
Overexertion and bodily reaction dropped down to the second leading cause of injury and illness in 2020, making up approximately 22% of cases requiring time away from work. These injuries are caused by motions that impose stress or strain on a part of the employee’s body.
These can occur in a variety of ways such as:
- Non-impact injury: Resulting from excessive physical effort directed at an outside source. These injuries can be caused by activities like lifting, pushing, turning, holding, carrying, or throwing
- Repetitive motion injury: Caused by microtasks which stress or strain part of the body over time due to the repetitive nature of the task. These typically occur without strenuous effort such as heavy lifting
Slips, trips, and falls
While slip, trip, and fall cases have decreased from 2019 by approximately 32,000 cases, they still accounted for 18% of workplace injuries in 2020 securing their place as the third leading injury type. Slips, trips, and falls are also the second leading cause of workplace deaths.
As the name suggests, there are many situations where these injuries could occur:
- Slips and trips without falling: Occurring when a worker catches him/herself from falling due to slip or trip
- Falling on the same level: Including tripping, slipping, falling while sitting, and falling onto or against object on the same level
- Falling to a lower level: Including falling from a collapsing structure, falling through surfaces, and falling from ladders, roofs, scaffolding, or other structures
- Jumping to a lower level: Different from falls because they are controlled and voluntary
Contact with objects/equipment
Contacts with objects or equipment accounted for 17% of work-related injuries in 2020 with 196,140 cases.
These incidents are often referred to as “struck-by” and “struck-against” accidents and include:
- A moving object striking a worker
- A worker striking against an object, including bumping into, stepping on, kicking, or being pushed or thrown onto an object
- A part of a worker’s body being squeezed, pinched, compressed, or crushed in equipment, between shifting objects, between stationary objects, or in a wire or rope
- A worker being struck, caught, or crushed in collapsing structure, equipment, or material
- A worker being injured because of friction or pressure between the person and the source of injury
- A worker being injured from vibration
While transportation incidents were the leading cause of work-related deaths in 2020, they are the fifth leading cause of non-fatal injuries at work. The account for approximately 3% of injuries or illnesses requiring days away from work.
Transportation incidents include both roadway and non-roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicles. Roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicles include injuries to vehicle occupants on public highways, streets, or roads normally used for travel and on shoulders and surrounding areas such as telephone poles, bridge abutments, and trees located alongside roadways. Non-roadway incidents include injuries to vehicle occupants away from public roadways in locations like fields, factory floors, parking lots.
Other transportation incidents included in the statistic are:
- Pedestrian vehicular incidents
- Animal and other non-motorized vehicle transport
- Aircraft incidents
- Water vehicle incidents
- Rail vehicle incidents
The first steps to preventing injuries at work are familiarizing yourself and your staff with common injuries and committing to prevention. Trainings on common injuries and their causes should be made available and encouraged to all employees, regardless of their position within the company. Prevention is a partnership between the employees and employer. If employees come forward with concerns, it is the responsibility of the employers or management to investigate. It is also important to take note of these concerns, as they could reveal a pattern of unsafe events or situations present in the work environment. Injuries tend to repeat themselves. If there is an issue such as poor lighting, unsecured structures, or damaged flooring, it is likely that more than one employee may be injured.
Once recurring situations are recognized, plans can be made for alternatives and changes. Following a model such as OSHA’s Hierarchy of Controls, employers and managers can make effective safety decisions to protect workers.
Image sourced from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
Safety controls should be selected according to hierarchy of effectiveness. Eliminating and substituting are the most effective methods and should be the first choice when developing a prevention plan. When trying to eliminate hazards, interim controls should be used while more longer-term solutions are being developed.
During the development phase, employers should:
- List out the hazards needing controls in order of their priority.
- Assign responsibility for implementing the controls to a specific person or group of people with the power or ability to implement them.
- Establish a target completion date.
- Plan how you will track progress toward completion.
- Plan how you will verify the effectiveness of controls after they are installed or implemented.
Once the new controls are implemented, it is important to continue to track progress, ask for employee feedback, and continue to look for injury patterns. Regular inspections are also encouraged, to confirm that the controls are continuing to work as designed or if they require any modifications.
Investing in injury prevention at work is return on investment. Not only does it prevent days away from work for your employees, but it also increases morale when your employees know that their safety and health is a top priority.
2021 workplace safety index: The top 10 causes of disabling injuries. Liberty Mutual Business Insurance. (2021, July 15). Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://business.libertymutual.com/insights/2021-workplace-safety-index-the-top-10-causes-of-disabling-injuries/
Department of Labor. (n.d.). Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs. Safety Management - Hazard Prevention and Control | Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://www.osha.gov/safety-management/hazard-prevention#:~:text=Select%20controls%20according%20to%20a,or%20indirectly%20introduce%20new%20hazards.
Employer-reported workplace injuries and illnesses – 2020. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, November 3). Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/osh.pdf
National Safety Council. (2022, January 6). Top work-related injury causes - data details. Injury Facts. Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/work/work-overview/top-work-related-injury-causes/data-details/