Workplace Falls: The Cost of Doing Business?
According to the National Safety Council, fall injuries contribute to a large percentage of workers’ compensation and medical costs for companies from all types of industries. This cost has been approximated at 70 billion dollars annually in the United States alone. As a result, CFR 1926.501 Fall Protection is the most cited standard by OSHA. After transportation-related deaths, falls are the number one cause of worker fatalities. Even so, OSHA regulations over the past fifty years have drastically decreased the number of at-height related accidents.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 14 thousand workers were killed at height in 1970, whereas 4,821 workers died in 2014. What makes these numbers even more shocking is that U.S. employment has nearly doubled since then. These huge improvements are a direct result of the OSHA regulations and employers’ safety efforts and enforcements over the past 40+ years.
While OSHA and safety professionals continue to enforce positive changes in workplace safety, we can only hope that the number of deaths due to slips, trips, and falls will decline even further. But, what about injuries and disabilities due to fall accidents in the workplace?
OSHA is making a concerted effort to prevent these types of injuries, mostly to ensure the health and well-being of industry workers. But, it’s still important to note that disabilities and injuries due to slips, trips, and falls are very expensive. Insurance companies estimate that more than 60 billion dollars per year is spent on disability claims, with a staggering 16 billion resulting from falls. That number doesn’t count the category of slips and trips without a fall, which constitute for another 2.5 billion dollars approximately.
According to the United States Department of Labor, it has been estimated that US employers (on average) pay almost one billion dollars per week for direct workers’ compensation costs alone. These costs include both direct and indirect fees: direct costs include workers’ compensation, medical expenses, and legal services. Indirect costs include worker downtime, training replacement employees, accident investigation, corrective measures, lost productivity, and repairs to damaged equipment.
These costs add up quickly, and developing a safety, health, and environmental (SH&E) program will provide a return on investment (ROI) for companies, industries, and even the national economy. According to the American Society of Safety Engineers, empirical data and anecdotal information show that investing in a SH&E program is a sound business strategy for any organization regardless of size, and will lead to having a positive impact on the financial bottom line. In addition to savings on worker’s compensation benefits, liability damages, medical expenses, and litigation expenses, providing a safety and health management program with commitment from senior management will improve productivity and employee morale.
In today’s industrial world, companies can no longer afford to view safety and health violations as the status quo or as just another “cost of doing business.” Because penalties continue to increase annually, the cost of not protecting workers far outweighs the cost of implementing responsible SH&E programs. Moreover, if a safety manager is aware of a violation which results in the death or serious injury of a worker, he or she can be prosecuted at the state level under criminal laws or in a referral by a government agency to the U.S. Department of Justice. It just isn’t worth it to avoid implementing mandatory safety and health programs to save a dime in today’s workforce. Implementing correct safety systems, equipment, programs, and plans will provide a huge return on investment and keep workers safer at height—it’s a win-win situation.
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