6 Most Common Workplace Injuries & How To Avoid Them
This article is part of a larger series on Workers' Compensation Insurance.
Business owners wanting to keep workers’ compensation costs down need to reduce compensable injuries among their employees. One of the best ways to do that is to address risk exposures. To help you reduce injuries, we’ve compiled the six most common workplace injuries with tips on how to avoid them.
Workplace Injuries That You’ll Learn About in This Article
- Exposure to harmful substances or environments.
- Overexertion and bodily reaction.
- Fall, slips, and trips.
- Contact with objects or equipment.
- Transportation incidents.
- Violence and injuries caused by persons and animals.
This list is compiled from the most recent data available from the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). In 2021, employers reported 2.6 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses—a decrease of 1.8% in 2020.
1. Exposure to Harmful Substances or Environments
In 2019, this workplace injury category had the sixth most incidents reported, with 36,840 cases. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this went from sixth to first, with 424,360 incidents reported in 2020 that led to time away from work. This category includes exposure to:
- Temperature extremes
- Air and water pressure change
- Radiation and noise
- Other harmful substances, including infectious diseases, such as COVID-19
The largest impacted sector was service (378,940), followed by manufacturing (35,800). The average for workers’ compensation costs for burn claims from 2019 to 2020 was $54,173.
Because this category is so broad, the advice on how to avoid it’s mostly broad as well. Some tips include:
- Requiring goggles, face masks, and respirators when working with hazardous materials
- Maintaining proper ventilation in buildings and areas where fumes can build up
- Storing chemicals and other substances properly
- Providing ear protection for employees where sound reaches 85 dB or higher
- Offering water and mandating rest breaks for employees working in extreme heat
- Providing warming shelter for workers in extreme cold
- Requiring proper clothing and insulated tools when working near electrical hazards
Since so many of the cases in 2020 were related to an infectious disease, companies that are not remote should consider having hand sanitizer widely available. It’s also worth reviewing your company’s time-away policy—instead of a strict don’t miss work policy, companies may want to consider a strict don’t come to work when sick policy.
2. Overexertion & Bodily Reaction
Formerly occupying the first spot, this category moved into number two in 2020, with 255,490 incidents categorized as overexertion and bodily reaction. While this has held the top spot for nearly a decade, incident rates have been falling in this category since 2012, when there were reported to be 333,420 incidents.
The high incident rate is understandable because overexertion can be the result of a single event, repetitive motions, or holding a position over a prolonged period. For example, carpal tunnel syndrome, which you can get from using a keyboard and mouse, is classified as a repetitive motion disorder. Other workplace actions that can lead to this injury include:
- Using tools on a construction site
- Loading trucks
- Lifting inventory
- Moving patients
- Sitting at a desk
- Standing at an assembly line
- Bending or twisting
The median days away from work as a result of this injury was 14. The goods-producing industry had the highest incident rate with 57,060, while manufacturing had 34,170 incidents.
Workers’ comp claims of injuries from a strain average $35,292, while cumulative injuries cost around $32,745.
While many of the activities that lead to this are repetitive and reflect the nature of a specific job, there are still ways you can help your employees and decrease the chances of an injury. You can help your employees by:
- Investing in ergonomic furniture
- Encouraging frequent breaks, where the employee gets up and moves around
- Mandating the use of safety equipment, such as harnesses, back braces, and lift aids
- Training employees on smart lifting practices
3. Falls, Slips & Trips
Small business owners usually worry about general liability insurance for slip and fall claims, but these are a big risk for employees too, as it is one of the most common work-related injuries. According to the BLS, falls, slips, and trips caused 211,640 incidents that led to missed work in 2020.
The BLS classifies this incident into falling to a lower level (49,250 incidents), falling on the same level (127,680 incidents), and slipping or tripping without actually falling (30,160 incidents). Being high up in a company doesn’t prevent you from falling to another level—120 top executives fell to a lower level in 2020.
Falls to a lower level are the fifth leading injury resulting in days away from work, with a median of 20 days. Meanwhile, falls greater than 11 feet resulted in a median of 180 days. The goods-producing industry, which includes manufacturing and construction, had a total amount of 49,620 fall incidents. In terms of fatalities, the construction industry accounts for 46.1% of fatal falls, slips, and trips.
Slips are no joke—falls, slips, and trips cost an average of $48,575.
While falls can lead to minor injuries, they can be fatal. Falls, slips, and trips were the third most fatal incident reported in 2020 and are the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry. But there are measures you can take to decrease the risk:
- Using “wet floor” signs when mopping or near spills
- Cleaning spills immediately upon discovery
- Placing non-skid tape on steps or frequently used paths
- Installing handrails, safety nets, and personal fall arrest systems
- Properly using portable ladders
- Following manufacturer’s instructions when assembling scaffoldings
4. Contact With Objects or Equipment
There were 196,140 incidents categorized as contact with objects or equipment—a significant decline from 2018’s 235,740 incidents. This is another broad category, which includes being struck by an object or equipment (110,320 incidents) and being caught in or compressed by an object or equipment (29,270 incidents).
Examples of this type of incident are:
- Friction or pressure causing injury
- Collapsing structure causing injury
- Being squeezed, pinched, or compressed in equipment
- A moving object striking an employee
- An employee striking against, into, or onto an object
Trade, transportation, and utilities was first with 67,170. Manufacturing had the second most incidents, with 39,430 cases, whereas construction was third, with 22,470 incidents of an employee being injured by coming into contact with an object or equipment.
Contact with an object or equipment can lead to costly claims. Striking against an object cost $30,417, being struck averaged $39,977, and being caught in something cost $44,588.
You can reduce injuries from contact with objects and equipment by making workplace safety part of your business’s culture. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has some helpful tips, including:
- Wearing hardhats
- Using protective measures, such as toeboards and debris nets
- Properly stacking materials to prevent falling or collapse
- Properly securing overhead materials
- Securing tools and materials to prevent them from falling
- Inspecting equipment regularly to make sure all components are in good condition
5. Transportation Incidents
While transportation incidents are fifth on the list with 41,010 incidents, it’s the most fatal workplace incident, with 1,038 deaths by roadway incidents alone. Transportation incidents aren’t limited to automobiles—the BLS also includes accidents involving:
Unsurprisingly, 10,520, or more than 20%, of the incidents are from the transportation and warehouse industries. Of the incidents reported, 8,990 were for the age range of 45 to 54 while 2,980 were for the range of 25 to 34.
The most expensive incident, transportation claims have an average cost of $85,311.
Workers’ compensation claims can be tricky when an employee is injured in a car accident. Policies generally cover injuries if the employee was driving in the scope of their job description—for instance, a delivery driver. However, if they decide to run a personal errand or are commuting to work, their claim will most likely be denied.
Regardless of which insurance covers the loss, it is a good idea to mitigate the risk of a transportation incident. Begin by hiring good drivers. You may also want to develop a safe driving program that includes a discussion of:
- Drug and alcohol use
- Vehicle maintenance
- Cellphone use
- Seat belt use
- Periodic Training
Many insurance providers, such as Progressive, offer telematic devices to help monitor the driving habits of your employees.
6. Violence & Injuries Caused by Persons or Animals
Unfortunately, workplace violence is a real problem. In 2020, the BLS reports there were 39,310 incidents of workplace violence. These included 20,050 incidents of intentional violence by another person and 7,620 incidents where the intent was unknown. On the upside, for the first time since this category started being tracked in 2011, incidents have decreased.
The age group with the highest rate of incidents is 25 to 34 with 11,210 incidents, while the second highest is for the range of 35 to 44 with 7,050. In terms of industry, educational services reported the most, with 1,270 incidents.
The subcategory with the highest median of days missed is that of “threat or verbal assault” with a count of 102. This puts into perspective how big of a toll something like verbal assault would take on an employee and on your workforce.
While traumatic, this category wasn’t as expensive as some others, with an average of $24,375.
Creating a safe working environment means ensuring employees feel safe because the work culture promotes well-being, alongside the physical environment being safe.
You can do this by emphasizing the importance of mental health by offering an employee assistance program (EAP), a secure hotline for reporting problems, and personal days. Promoting healthy conflict resolution and communication training can also help employees learn how to communicate and receive feedback well.
On top of that, be on the lookout for:
- Intimidating or bullying behaviors
- Emotional reaction to criticism
- Withdrawal or suicidal comments
- 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 workers.
The Cost of Workplace Injuries
While decreasing the risk of injuries at work requires an investment by your business, you need to balance that with the expense of workplace injuries. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that workplace fatal and nonfatal injuries cost employers a total of $163.9 billion in 2020. This figure includes an estimated $44.8 billion for productivity loss and $61 billion for administrative costs. For the business owner, these numbers translate into:
- $1,100 per worker
- $1,310,000 per death
- $44,000 per medically consulted injury
Time away from the job hurts the company. It’s estimated that 99,000,000 days were lost from injured workers in 2020—this figure includes injuries from previous years who are still missing work. Likewise, an estimated 50,000,000 days will be lost in the future from injuries suffered in 2020.
How Safety Can Reduce Your Workers’ Compensation Costs
The average cost of workers’ compensation insurance is $1.07 per $100 payroll. One of the best ways to keep workers’ compensation insurance costs down is to reduce workplace injuries. Many insurers offer discounts to small business owners who establish safety programs and train employees in best practices. Top workers’ compensation carriers offer risk mitigation programs, often for free, to help business owners reduce claims.
Fewer claims directly impact the premium calculation through your experience modification rate (EMR). The EMR is a number used by carriers to represent your workers’ compensation claims history and is part of your premium calculation.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
In 2020, exposure to harmful substances or environments went from the sixth leading cause of time away from work to the number one cause of workplace injuries and illness. The total number is 424,360, or a rate of 43.5 per 10,000 workers. The move from sixth to first was because of COVID-19.
The median days away from work for all events and exposures is 12. The highest is 180 days for both transportation incidents and falling from 11 feet or more, whereas the lowest is one day. Many events lead to one missed day, including being scratched by an animal.
The average cost for all workers’ compensation claims from 2019–2020 was $41,353. The highest average was motor vehicle claims at $85,311, while the lowest was for a cut/punch/scrape at $24,375.
Accidents happen in ways you didn’t anticipate. However, you can take steps to protect your employees from the most common workplace injuries they’re likely to face. Not only does this help control workers’ compensation costs, but it also keeps your workers safe.