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Preventing Injuries in the Workplace

By Elizabeth Rice, SPHR

Every seven seconds a U.S. worker is injured on the job. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, 4.4 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses were reported in private industry during 2003. The good news is that the rate of injuries per 100,000 full-time workers declined from 5.3 in 2002 to 5.0 in 2003-a decrease of 6 percent. Unfortunately, the costs of those injuries rose at an equal rate, wiping out any potential cost savings. Work-related injuries cost employers about $1 billion a week in payments to injured workers and their medical care providers. Worker’s compensation is the second-highest business expense after payroll.

The employee injury rate varies from industry to industry. The professional and business services sectors have a lower rate of injuries (2.5 per 100,000 workers) than more dangerous industries such as transportation and warehousing (7.8 per 100,000 workers), manufacturing (6.8 per 100,000 workers), and retail trade (5.3 per 100,000). While Professional services employees face fewer risks but some less obvious injuries have crept into the workplace. Repetitive motion injuries-often the result of prolonged use of computers-is now the fourth leading cause of serious workplace injuries.

Innovative Employee Solutions® (IES) recently interviewed Dena Davidson, Vice President, Client Relations, and Mark Gentry, Vice President, Client Services, for Risk Control Services, a risk management consulting firm for the global staffing industry, to discuss what employers can do to minimize employee risk and the costs associated the workplace injuries.

Careful Selection of Employees When Hiring. “Today’s concept of accident prevention involves much more than simply eliminating hazards in the workplace,” explains Gentry. “One of the most important things an employer can do to reduce injuries is to keep high-risk individuals from entering the workplace.” Davidson and Gentry advocate criminal background checks, drug testing and safety training help to ensure the most qualified employees are offered positions with the company. This does not guarantee there will not be injuries in the workplace, but helps to reduce the number of predators being placed, which only increase workers compensation costs. 

Develop a Safety Checklist. Taking an inventory of potential hazards and documenting measures to minimize risks is the simplest and most cost-effective thing employers can do to prevent injuries. “Accidents do happen, but most are foreseeable and preventable,” states Davidson. Employers need to identify high-risk areas and activities, and take action to improve the overall safety of the work environment. Is there equipment, cabling, or furniture that can cause employees to trip and fall? Fix the problems you can and develop procedures to handle the rest.

Adopt and Enforce Safety Procedures. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates that employers follow certain safety procedures, but businesses should develop their own procedures, communicate them to the workforce, and enforce them. Since over-exertion is the leading cause of serious workplace injuries, companies need to set limits on how much employees should attempt to lift and carry in the workplace. Overzealous and well-meaning employees sometimes try to do too much. Additional guidelines should include dress codes and the use of protective equipment, such as safety goggles, when necessary. To further prevent any accidents simple housekeeping, such as cleaning up spills promptly, must be a priority. 

Formal Training and Occasional Drills. Most safety procedures are common sense, but employers cannot assume that workers understand how to be safe on the job. To reduce liability and ensure that procedures are followed, safety training must be part of new employee orientation. Training should continue through monthly safety meetings and occasional safety drills. While implementing these procedures may be time-consuming, Davidson notes that the cost savings associated with prevention goes directly to the bottom line.

Design for Success. Ergonomics, the science of designing and arranging equipment to reduce operator fatigue and discomfort, can help reduce stress and repetitive motion disorders. A small investment in wrist pads, foot rests, track balls, and other ergonomically sound equipment can pay large dividends by reducing pain-related employee absences. 

Companies need to protect themselves and their employees by ensuring a safe workplace. Innovative Employee Solutions® takes safety in the workplace very seriously and as a result has implemented ways to control Workers Compensation costs while maintaining a positive impact on employees. By offering drug screening and background checks, the road to safety prevention is started. The practices are further instilled through rigorous safety training, which include safety materials and information. By placing a premium on safety, employers benefit through lower costs and employees benefit by having a safe environment.