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Preventing Disabling Injuries, a Weekly $1 Billion Burden

  • Published
  • 14 May 2018
  • Category
  • General

The cost of disabling workplace injuries and illnesses continues to rise despite corresponding declines in the number of workplace incidents, according to the newly released 2018 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.

While the rate of serious workplace injuries and illnesses fell by 1.5 percent, related costs – including medical and lost-wage payments – increased by 2.9 percent between 2014 and 2015, the reporting year used for the 2018 index. Non-fatal workplace injuries accounted for nearly $60 billion in direct workers’ compensation costs, translating to a cost burden of more than $1 billion a week for U.S. businesses.

The annual index published by Liberty Mutual Insurance is based on injuries with more than five days away from work. It does not include costs for fatalities, which also account for billions of dollars in costs for businesses, as well as emotional and financial losses for families, communities and society, in general.

The Workplace Safety Index and similar data validate employers’ efforts to make jobs safer and further refine injury prevention programs. For example, nearly 3 million workplace injuries and illnesses occurred at rate of 2.9 cases per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers in 2016. By comparison, in 2003, the rate was 5.0 recordable cases per 100 FTEs, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

Meanwhile, private industry employers experienced nearly 48,500 fewer injury and illness cases in 2016 compared to a year earlier, according to estimates from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. However, about one-third of those cases resulted in days away (median eight days), restricted work or job transfer.

Overexertion – defined as injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying and throwing objects – outpaces all other causes of disabling injuries at a rate of 23.4 percent and a cost of $13.7 billion per year. Falls on the same level and to a lower level rank second and third, respectively Number 10 on the top-10 list is “repetitive motions involving microtasks” (2.6 percent of the most costly disabling injuries).

Closing Gaps

Disability rates and related medical and lost productivity costs indicate there is still a need to close gaps before injury prevention and management processes can be fully mastered.

At WorkCare, we believe a significant percentage of injuries can be prevented from becoming physically and mentally disabling conditions. Our best-practice model supports pre-injury employee and supervisor education, immediate reporting of work-related medical conditions (including non-specific aches and pains), prompt medical intervention and safe work during recovery.

Appropriate evaluation and treatment at injury onset is essential. The serious nature of potentially disabling injuries must be taken into account. However, it’s also important to address an observable tendency toward over-treatment of relatively routine complaints. This tendency contributes to a “disability mindset” and is one of the reasons why the same medical condition costs more when it is a workers’ compensation case than when it is treated as a personal injury.

A good place to begin disability prevention in the event of a non-emergency, work-related injury is before it becomes a workers’ compensation claim.

WorkCare finds that an employee telehealth encounter with an occupational health nurse and/or physician at onset leads to an onsite self-care decision at the first-aid level about 75 percent of the time. When a clinic referral is requested or recommended, occupational physician peer contact with the treating provider helps facilitate a safe return-to-work process.

In either of these scenarios, the anticipated result is improved employee and supervisor satisfaction, better health outcomes, increased productivity and decreased costs. In turn, the likelihood of a work-related medical condition escalating to short- or long-term disability is greatly reduced.

Peter P. Greaney, M.D., WorkCare’s CEO and chief medical officer, will be speaking on these concepts during presentations on “The Value of Work” at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Expo in Philadelphia (10 a.m., May 22, Session E4) and at Safety 2018, the American Society of Safety Engineer’s annual conference (1:45 p.m., June 6, Session S758).

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