The Cost of a Poor Safety Program
The Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index identifies the most common and costly workplace injuries to help employers identify safety risks and allocate resources. The index ranks types of serious, nonfatal injuries by their direct costs to U.S. businesses in a year. Serious injuries are considered any work-related injuries and illnesses that result in employees missing six or more days of work.
The 2018 index shows that the total number of serious workplace injuries and illnesses decreased by 1.5 percent from 2017, but total costs rose by 2.9 percent. Costs to employees come from direct expenses, including some medical care and the injured employee’s pay, as well as indirect expenses, including hiring temporary workers and lost productivity. Injured employees also face additional costs, including potential long-term physical disability and emotional and financial harm.
Highest Injury Risks
The Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index is intended to help employers identify the highest risks for injury in the workplace and to focus efforts and resources on the most important areas. This information helps companies develop the most effective safety programs and have the greatest impact on workplace injuries and illness. So what are the highest workplace risks, and what can employers do to reduce those risks?
The 2018 index ranks overexertion as the highest-cost category, costing employers $13.7 billion and accounting for 23.4 percent of workers’ compensation costs. Falls on the same level account for 19.2 percent, and falls to a lower level account for 10 percent, making falls of any kind the highest workers’ compensation cost at a combined $17.8 billion, or 29.2 percent of total costs. Although overexertion remains the single highest category of injuries, falls of all kinds make up a growing proportion of total costs.
Falls on the same level—typically caused by slips and trips—are more common than falls to a lower level, and the hazards can sometimes be harder to identify. These hazards can include wet or slippery surfaces, uneven terrain, changes in elevation, and more. Placing signs and keeping a clean, organized, and well-lit work area can help reduce the risk of falls by eliminating many hazards and improving visibility around hazards that can’t be eliminated. Avoiding distractions and wearing proper footwear are ways workers can also reduce their own risk of slip, trip, and fall injuries.
The hierarchy of fall protection is a great place to start when focusing on ways to reduce the risk of injuries from falls to a lower level. As with falls on the same level, the best solution is to eliminate the hazard. If a job can be done without working at a height, elimination is the best and most preferred solution in the hierarchy. Next is passive fall protection, which includes physical barriers, such as guardrails around edges and covers over holes.
The next option is fall restraint, which restricts a worker’s range of motion to prevent access to exposed edges. Fourth on the hierarchy is fall arrest. Fall arrest systems connect workers to a structure that can stop a fall before the worker hits the ground. Finally, the least-preferred solution to fall hazards is to use administrative controls to increase workers’ awareness of potential fall hazards.
Workplace injuries and illnesses take a huge toll on U.S. businesses every year by costing them both money and time. It might seem contrary to intuition, but investing and focusing on improving workplace safety actually benefits both a company’s bottom line and its productivity. As companies and workplace safety organizations work to improve worker protection, the U.S. can expect to see lower numbers of workplace injuries as well as associated expenses.
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