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Root Causes of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses

  • Published
  • 24 August 2023
  • Category
  • General

Workplace injuries and illnesses that resulted in at least five days of absence cost U.S. businesses more than $1 billion per week in medical expenses and lost productivity in 2020, according to the newly released 2023 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. That amount doesn’t include the incalculable physical and emotional toll occupational injuries have on employees, their dependents, and the communities where they live and work.

Top Causes

The annual index identifies the top-10 causes of the nation’s most serious workplace injuries and illnesses. For the 2023 index, Liberty Mutual blended its workers’ compensation claims data with other data obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI). Events were ranked by workers’ compensation costs and scaled to NASI results to determine total costs.

The top-10 causes listed in order by cost in billions of dollars per year are:

  1. Overexertion involving outside sources ($12.84B)
  2. Falls on same level ($8.98B)
  3. Falls to lower level ($6.098B)
  4. Struck by object or equipment ($5.14B)
  5. Other exertions or bodily reactions (awkward postures) ($3.67B)
  6. Exposure to other harmful substances (3.35B)
  7. Roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicles (vehicle crashes) ($2.58B)
  8. Caught in or compressed by equipment or objects (running equipment or machines) ($1.98B)
  9. Slip or trip without fall ($1.92B)
  10. Pedestrian vehicular incidents ($1.61B)

In a related analysis, Liberty Mutual reports that:

  • “Overexertion involving outside sources,” (e.g., sprains and strains related to manual material handling), consistently retains the number-one spot on the index year after year.
  • “Falls on the same level’’ have held the number-two position for at least the last five years.
  • Two causes made the list for the first time: “Exposure to other harmful substances,” which includes COVID-19 and other contagious diseases, and “pedestrian vehicular accidents.”
  • Eight types of industries accounted for 87 percent of workers’ compensation losses, with construction topping the list.
  • Back injuries were the most costly, followed by incidents involving multiple body parts and injuries to the torso, shoulders or knees.
  • “Repetitive motions involving microtasks” and “struck against an object or equipment” both fell off the top-10 list.

Some Lessons

What lessons have WorkCare’s occupational health and safety professionals gleaned from this information? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Even with the best efforts to prevent them, workplace injuries and illnesses still occur. That’s why we encourage immediate employee reporting of any non-emergency, work-related injury, illness or physical discomfort to our telehealth triage team. When our experienced occupational health practitioners can evaluate an employee’s condition and provide care guidance at onset, outcomes improve, costs decline and absence rates decrease. (Refer to our Incident Intervention program.)
  2. A comprehensive understanding of exposure risk is essential to workplace injuries and illness prevention. You may have noticed that the leading causes of the most costly injuries have intertwined roots. A cause may be easy to identify, such as not wearing recommended protective equipment, or it may involve a complex web of environmental, behavioral, cultural and personal health factors. WorkCare’s expert team helps employers identify root causes, schedules industry-specific medical surveillance exams and drug testing services, and provides fitness-for-duty and return-to-work evaluations performed by occupational physicians. (Refer to Medical Exams & Travel.)
  3. Efforts to prevent and relieve musculoskeletal discomfort caused by overexertion during material handling are worth the investment. Consultations with WorkCare’s industrial injury prevention specialists who are trained in sports medicine, first aid, ergonomics and wellness have been shown to reduce recordable injuries and expedite recovery while improving employee satisfaction and quality of life. (Refer to our Industrial Athlete Program.)
  4. The findings suggest that interventions aimed at preventing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) associated with repetitive micro-tasks and compliance with certain worksite safety controls have a favorable effect. Conversely, efforts to prevent MSDs caused by overexertion, fall-related injuries, sickness due to exposure to viruses, and safeguards for people working in close proximity to moving vehicles could be more robust. (Refer to WorkCare’s Onsite Services & Clinics and Consulting M.D. teams.)
  5. Preparedness is a justifiable use of resources. Contagious disease outbreaks, extreme weather, natural disasters, wars and economic upheaval can occur at any time. We support clients who employ workers in public safety, health care, power/utilities, communications, oil and gas, food production, water supply, waste management and other essential occupations. (Refer to Wellness Solutions to learn more about how we support first responders.)