In the modern work environment, worker safety must be of paramount concern to employers. In fact, a 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Labor demonstrated that 3 of every 100 full-time workers suffer workplace injuries, translating to a significant human cost and 3.7 million actual compensation claims. While this is indeed a significant figure, many of these common workplace injuries are preventable.
When organizations take steps to encourage a culture of workplace safety, embodied in proactive policies and thorough training, workers can enjoy a healthy work environment while employers reduce costs. Here are several common sources of injury risk in the workplace, along with strategies for prevention.
It might sound like a broad category, but in reality, simply handling and storing materials and equipment is one of the most common sources of injury in the workplace, accounting for 32 percent of total workers’ compensation claims. In factory and warehouse environments, improper storage or handling practices can endanger workers and create unnecessary costs to employers. Avoid these risky situations by eliminating the danger before it appears: stack and wrap materials with larger, heavier items stored at the bottom, keeping lighter items at the top. It’s also vital to introduce strict policies that instruct workers to pair up when lifting loads of over 40 pounds to help reduce back injuries. Likewise, ensure that enough space is preserved between pallets and shelving units so that workers and lift equipment can access materials without risking an accident. Additionally, employers should update to the latest lift technology, which can minimize the impact of constant stress on the body from lifting and carrying heavy loads. Consistent training of proper body mechanics will help reinforce the culture of a pain- and injury-free workforce.
Slips, Trips, and Falls (STF)
OSHA ranks slips, trips, and falls as the most common industry accidents, accounting for 15 percent of accidental deaths as well as many common injuries to the knee, elbow, wrist, back and shoulders, and the head. Fortunately, these injuries can be prevented with a proactive application of basic safety practices.
Prevention begins with a clean workplace – keeping floors clear and dry will eliminate many of these injuries before they even have a chance to occur, so proper cleanup procedures should be followed immediately when a spill occurs. Make sure that there is adequate walking space between shelves and other obstructions, and check that your facilities are well-lit. Since falls from a height are also common in many industries, it’s essential to employ strong ladder safety training to keep your workers upright and healthy.
Though among the most dangerous workplace safety hazards, fires are also among the most preventable. Stay up to date on your building permits, and ensure that your workers are trained in fire exit strategies for your facilities. Monitor your workplace for exposed wiring, leaking fluids, and cables that have been covered by carpeting.
Injuries caused by overexertion are most commonly linked to back problems among workers, but they can cause a host of other bodily injuries as well, including repetitive motion stress and hernia. These injuries primarily occur as a result of a worker attempting to lift or otherwise handle too much weight, and only require a momentary lapse in technique to set off an injury that can easily turn into a chronic condition. As a result, these injuries are costly, and typically require long recovery periods in which the worker is forced to stay home.
Prevention strategies for injuries related to overexertion should be proactive, with a focus on reducing strain on the body. Train employees to take breaks from repetitive motion or strenuous activity, and make sure that they’re using tools that are properly fitted for your workers. Most importantly, develop best practices on proper lifting techniques, and make sure your workers ask for help or use powered lifts for heavier loads beyond 40 pounds.
Other Chronic Injuries
Workers who perform computer-based tasks or who operate machinery can be at high risk for chronic injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and other injuries deriving from stress to the joints, ligaments, and tendons. These injuries can require long periods of recovery or worker reassignment as well as being extremely costly. Ergonomics are tremendously valuable in preventing these injuries. With an organizational risk or workstation ergonomic assessment, your company can locate areas of potential risk and devise solutions before injuries occur, including installing well-fitting equipment, providing functional and safe tools, and creating a safe work environment that encourages breaks and movement during work hours.
Many manufacturers and other entities work with hazardous or toxic substances, and injuries as a result of interacting with these chemicals are not uncommon. Accidental spills pose a significant risk for workers and their employers – even small leaks can be dangerous. Organizations should take steps to implement proactive hazmat plans that minimize risk while training employees in dealing with chemical accidents. Up-to-date personal protective equipment and cleanup resources can also help mitigate injury among workers.
As is the case in many modern environments, the workplace can be ripe with hazards and accidents waiting to happen. The key is how a proactive organization goes about preventing and minimizing those risks. There are four key steps in developing such a risk mitigation plan:
1. Complete a detailed organization risk assessment. This would involve observing the entire organization down to workstations, tasks and company culture, and conducting surveys.
2. Understand the results. The risk assessment results should be married to the program goals, along with any data you might have (claims, injury rates, impact of MSDs on workers’ comp and health-care costs)
3. Design and implement the plan. The plan design should take into account all aspects of workplace safety, from training on proper techniques for sitting, standing, pushing, pulling and lifting, to stretching education, hands-on pain treatments , workstation redesign, and other solutions. If equipment needed to eliminate a risk cannot be acquired due to budget constraints, incorporate additional initiatives such as micro breaks, and encourage operators to stop work if a hazard is identified and report pain early so that employees can be properly supported.
4. Measure results and modify as needed. At least quarterly during the first year, measure the cost reduction, medication usage, improvement in sleeping habits, stress levels, pain levels, morale, and productivity. Modify plan components as called for.
5. Implement DORN’s Worksite Pain Management and Injury Prevention Programs.
Through these steps, you can promote a company culture that does not tolerate injury risks, allowing you to keep operations humming while ensuring employee well-being.
To learn more, please call DORN today to discuss Common Workplace Injuries and Injury Prevention Programs: 303.861.8411 or email [email protected]