This article is part of a larger series on Workers' Compensation Insurance.
Business owners who want to keep their workers’ compensation insurance costs down need to reduce compensable injuries among their employees. By minimizing injuries, employers can improve their claims histories, which can lower their rates and, sometimes, earn discounts from their insurers. We’ve compiled this list of the most common workplace injuries and added tips to help you reduce them.
Our list is based on the most recent data from the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), which reports an estimated 2.8 million nonfatal workplace accidents in private companies throughout 2019. The BLS organizes its information in several different ways, including the nature of the injury, business size, and industry. In this article, we focus on the events that cause injuries, specifically those involving missed workdays because knowing the cause helps you mitigate the risk.
Workplace Injuries That You’ll Learn About in This Article
- Overexertion and bodily reaction
- Fall, slips, and trips
- Contact with objects and equipment
- Transportation incidents
- Violence and injuries caused by persons and animals
- Exposure to harmful substances
1. Overexertion and Bodily Reaction
The BLS categorizes 275,590 incidents as “overexertion and bodily reaction,” making it the most common source of work-related injuries for private companies. It’s easy to see why this exposure is so prevalent when you consider overexertion can be the result of a single event, repetitive motions, or holding a position over a prolonged period. This means an overexertion workplace injury could be caused by:
- Using tools on a construction site
- Loading trucks
- Typing on a keyboard
- Lifting inventory or supplies
- Standing at an assembly line
- Moving patients
- Sitting at a desk
In that light, just about every worker in any industry is exposed to overexertion and bodily reaction injuries.
Industries with the highest incidence rate2: Trade, transportation, and utilities: 43.9; educational and health services: 34.4; manufacturing: 29.1
How To Avoid Overexertion Injuries
A bad back or sore wrist may not seem like much, but extreme cases can require surgery with significant rehabilitation. While workers’ compensation insurance covers these injuries in most states, preventing them eliminates the need for claims and for hiring temporary help as an injured employee recovers.
You can help your employees prevent overexertion injuries by:
- Training employees on smart lifting practices like lifting with their knees
- Mandating the use of safety harnesses, back braces, and lift aids
- Requiring frequent breaks for employees who maintain a particular position for sustained periods
- Investing in ergonomic furniture
- Encouraging employees to change tasks when possible
2. Falls, Slips, and Trips
Many small business owners think of slip-and-fall accidents as they pertain to general liability insurance and third-party claims, but these are a big risk for employees too. According to the BLS, falls, slips, and trips caused employees to miss work in 244,000 incidents throughout 2019.
While a slip-and-fall on a wet floor can cause a workplace injury, falls, trips, and slips can also be attributed to:
- Uneven surfaces
- Tripping hazards left in walkways
- Icy sidewalks
Falls, slips, and trips are a particular concern for the construction industry, which saw 25,460 such injuries at a rate of 35.9 per 10,000 full-time workers. However, more than 72,000 workers in trade, transportation, and utilities were also injured in falls during 2019, at a rate of 31.4 per 10,000 full-time workers.
Industries with the highest incidence rate2: Natural resources and mining: 32.6; construction: 35.9; trade, transportation, and utilities: 31.4
How To Avoid Falls, Slips, and Trips
Nonfatal falls, slips, and trips usually cause strained muscles and broken bones, but they can also cause serious brain injuries. Moreover, falls are one of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Fatal Four for the construction industry. You can reduce the chance of workers suffering slips, falls, and trips by:
- Cleaning spills immediately upon discovery
- Using “wet floor” signs after mopping or spills
- Placing nonskid tape on steps or frequently used paths
- Installing handrails where traffic on steps is frequent and heavy
- Encouraging employees to use nonstick soles on shoes
Tip: Falls, slips, and trips are easy to fake. One way to combat fraudulent workers’ comp claims is to install security cameras in work areas.
3. Contact With Objects and Equipment
Contact with objects or equipment takes third place on our list of work-related injuries—but barely. The BLS places 229,410 accidents in this category, 25.8% of all incidents compared to 27.5% for falls, slips, and trips.
Injuries caused by contact with objects or equipment may be hard to picture, but imagine:
- A tool falling on a construction worker’s head
- A nurse being stuck with a needle
- A runaway golf cart hitting a golf caddy or groundskeeper
- A falling wall crushing the workers below it
While similar events can happen in any industry, OSHA says 75% of all “struck-by” fatalities involve heavy equipment. This means employers in agriculture, manufacturing, and construction need to take extra care.
Industries with the highest incidence rate2: Natural resources and mining: 43.5, construction: 36.8, manufacturing: 35.9
How To Avoid Injuries From Contact With Objects
Faulty equipment and poor safety training are often at the heart of these injuries, but workers’ inattention may also cause accidents. You can reduce injuries from contact with objects and equipment by making workplace safety part of your business’s culture. For example, you may want to:
- Hire an expert to review your safety procedures
- Require regular workplace safety training
- Make sure all equipment is secure throughout the day
- Limit loads on any motorized vehicles to ensure the operator has a clear view
- Instruct employees to use the appropriate safety equipment
- Discipline employees who misbehave near machinery, motorized vehicles, and other heavy equipment
4. Transportation Incidents
With 49,430 injuries, transportation incidents only make up about 5.6% of all nonfatal workplace injuries. However, they caused more worker deaths (2,122) in 2019 than the top three workplace injuries on our list combined (1,612).
Transportation incidents aren’t limited to automobiles. The BLS also includes accidents involving:
Workers’ compensation coverage can be a little tricky when an employee is injured in a car accident. Policies generally cover injuries if the employee was driving in the scope of their employment—for instance, making deliveries or running errands for their boss. However, if they decide to run a personal errand or are commuting to work, their claim will most likely be denied.
Industries with the highest incidence rate2: Trade, transportation, and utilities: 9.8; natural resources and mining: 7.7; construction: 5.3
How To Avoid Injuries From Transportation Incidents
The first step to preventing transportation incidents, particularly car accidents, is to hire good drivers in the first place. Start by requesting candidates’ driving records from your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV). Most require the candidate’s signature to release the information.
After that, you may also want to develop a safe driving program that includes policies on:
- Drug and alcohol use
- Seat belt use
- Accident reporting
- Vehicle maintenance
- Cellphone use
- Rest breaks
- Periodic training
5. Violence and Injuries Caused by Persons or Animals
The BLS data shows that 44,480 workers suffered injuries caused by people or animals. This category represents a wide range of possible scenarios, including:
- Workplace violence
- Self-harm, including suicide
- Animal bites and insect stings
- Animal maulings, gorings, and tramplings
Again, not all employee injuries are compensable through workers’ comp. Policies typically only cover medical costs when employees are hurt in the course and scope of their employment. As a result, intentional self-harm is generally excluded as are injuries from a fight between coworkers—unless they’re fighting over something specific to the workplace.
Industries with the highest incidence rate2: Educational and health services: 14.5, natural resources and utilities: 8.8, leisure and hospitality: 2.6
How To Avoid Workplace Violence
Sadly, intentional injury by a person accounts for nearly 47 percent of the incidents categorized by the BLS as workplace violence. Whether such injuries are covered by workers’ comp, preventing them makes sense. Educate yourself and your employees on the warning signs that someone may become violent, including:
- A negative change in job performance
- Intimidating or bullying behaviors
- An emotional reaction to criticism
- Withdrawal or suicidal comments
- Unreasonable demands, inappropriate comments, or verbal threats
- Violations of company policies
- Inability to resolve conflicts
When you encounter an employee with these or other warning signs, you need to take steps to both help the employee and protect your business and other workers. Begin by documenting your interactions with the employee and seeking advice from your human resources (HR) department or a lawyer on appropriate steps.
You may want to refer employees with any of these warning signs to your employee assistance program (EAP) if you or your health insurance provider work with one. If an interaction seems to be escalating, contact building security or call 911.
6. Exposure to Harmful Substances or Environments
The final spot on our list of most common workplace injuries goes to exposure to harmful substances. With approximately 36,840 incidents, this category accounts for 4.2% of nonfatal injuries in 2019. You might imagine most of these injuries come from inhaling chemicals from pesticides and cleaning products, but the category also includes exposure to:
- Extreme temperatures
- Changes in air or water pressure
- Oxygen deficiencies
- Traumatic events
Any of these exposures can be through a single event or multiple experiences in the workplace. Either way, the results can be serious and expensive injuries like frostbite, heatstroke, lung disease, and cancer.
Industries with the highest incidence rate2: Leisure and hospitality: 10.4, manufacturing: 4.5, natural resources and mining: 4.1
How To Avoid Exposure To Harmful Substances and Environments
The range of possible workplace injuries in this category makes it difficult to provide succinct advice for avoiding them. Here are a few tips you may be able to apply to your unique situation:
- Require goggles, face masks, and respirators when working with hazardous materials
- Maintain proper ventilation in buildings and areas where fumes can build up
- Learn how to store chemicals and other risky substances properly
- Provide ear protection for employees in areas where sound reaches 85 dBA or more
- Offer water and mandate rest breaks for employees working in extreme heat
- Provide warming shelter for workers in extreme cold
- Require proper clothing and insulated tools when working near electrical hazards
The Cost of Workplace Injuries
Many of our suggestions for protecting your workers involve extra costs for you. However, you need to compare that expense to the cost of workplace injuries. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that workplace fatal and nonfatal injuries cost employers a total of $171 billion in 2019, which the NSC breaks down to:
- $1,100 per worker
- $1.22 million per death
- $42,000 per medically consulted injury
The NSC’s estimate represents both direct costs like medical expenses and lost wages and indirect costs like lost productivity and worker replacement.
Tip: OSHA’s “$afety Pays” can help you assess the cost workplace injuries and illnesses have on your business.
How Safety Can Reduce Your Workers’ Compensation Costs
Most business owners have workers’ comp insurance to cover the direct costs of employee injuries, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have expenses. The most recent data, which you can download from the National Academy of Social Insurance, puts the average cost of workers’ compensation insurance at $1.17 per $100 of payroll.
One of the best ways to keep workers’ compensation insurance costs down and keep company morale up is to reduce workplace injuries. Many insurance carriers offer discounts to small business owners who establish safety programs and train employees in best practices. Top workers’ comp carriers have risk mitigation programs to help business owners do a better job of reducing claims.
Fewer claims can also positively impact your experience modification rate (EMR). An EMR is a number that insurers use to represent your workers’ comp claim history when they determine your premium. Business owners with fewer claims than comparable businesses have an EMR below one. When that’s factored into the premium formula, it lowers the business’ workers’ comp costs.
Accidents happen—often in ways that you didn’t anticipate. However, you can take steps to protect your employees from workplace injuries they’re most likely to face. Not only does this help control workers’ compensation costs, but it also keeps your workers safe.
2 Incidence rate is per 10,000 full-time workers.