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What is a Workplace Injury?
According to OSHA (1904.5), a workplace injury is an event in the workplace that either causes or contributes to a condition or significantly aggravates a pre-existing injury or illness.
Common Workplace Injuries
According to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index 2021, the top five most common workplace injuries and their national financial burden are:
The most common workplace injuries are related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, or throwing objects. Overexertion costs businesses $13.30 billion in direct costs and accounts for 22.7% of the overall national workplace injury burden.
2. Falls on the Same Level
Ranking second most common workplace injury falls on the same level have a direct cost of $10.58 billion and account for 18.1% of the total injury burden.
3. Falls to a Lower Level
Falls to a lower level ranking third most common workplace injury at $6.26 billion in costs and 10.7% of the national burden.
4. Struck by an Object or Equipment
Being hit by objects ranks fourth most common workplace injury at $5.61 billion and 9.6%.
5. Other Exertions or Bodily Reactions
These injuries include bending, reaching, twisting, climbing, crawling, kneeling, sitting, standing, walking, and running, and rank fifth at $4.71 billion and 8.0% of the total injury burden.
How To Protect Your Employees from Workplace Injuries
The best way to protect your employees from injuries is to take preventative measures. The safest companies include and utilize diverse injury-prevention methods in their day-to-day work environments.
Step 1: Know Your Stuff!
OSHA has a goldmine of information that goes above and beyond the mandatory requirements. Stay aware of updates or changes to the mandates, train your staff to watch for proper OSHA safety and regularly check to ensure you’re up to code at all times.
Step 2: Incorporate a Safety and Wellness Program
Education and communication are essential to creating a safe work environment. An effective safety and wellness program should incorporate both.
There are many different ways to educate, but we will focus on two main categories: passive and proactive education.
Passive education can consist of:
- Posters and notices in appropriate locations
- Hazard lines
- Clear labels for hazardous materials
- Easily accessible comprehensive descriptions for proper safety procedures
- Structured organization for potentially dangerous chemicals and machinery
For maximal effectiveness, each passive measure should be inclusive, hard to miss, and appealing to use. This can look like a hazard line utilizing bright colors, an eye-catching pattern, and bold letters. Another example could be an up-to-date, clearly labeled chemical manual attached to a wall in a high traffic area. Even the way safety gear is kept can make it more rewarding, appealing to use, and less likely to be misplaced.
Proactive education looks like:
- Taking time during the workday for mandatory safety training
- Team leaders giving their teams monthly reviews of safety measures
- Quizzing employees on safety gear and procedures
- Offering incentives for those who use proper safety practices
The more appealing you can make proactive education the better. This helps your staff be more engaged which helps them retain the information. Offering meals at safety meetings, drawings for prizes for those observed using proper safety practices, and making it fun by including staff-led ‘safety charades’ or skits can be effective at making proactive education more engaging and memorable.
Watch out for potentially ambiguous parts of your policies and tighten them up. Leave no room for miscommunication or open-endedness. Have your policies reviewed by multiple eyes and invite employees to make suggestions. Most importantly, get your managing team involved and enforce your policies without relent.
As in all communication, safety communication should go both ways. Forbes highlights the importance and facets of communication in their article Workplaces Need New Approaches To Safety In 2021: Five Actions To Take: “Start with clearly articulating safety concerns and requirements during the interview process and thoroughly training employees on safety matters during onboarding. This also means continuous communication around updated policies, new machinery, and more.”
The article highlights how many workers don’t feel comfortable alerting authorities of potentially hazardous conditions or practices because they don’t know what issues are important enough to report. Communicating what and how to report issues should begin as early as the initial interview and be reviewed regularly.
While communication starts with education, it shouldn’t stop there. “…make sure that any hazardous materials or machinery are clearly labeled. Make sure that required signage is clearly displayed as well and that all signage has pictograms, a signal word, hazard, and precautionary statements, the product identifier, and supplier identification, according to OSHA.”
Step 3: Provide Easy Access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and First Aid
Personal Protective Equipment or PPE is defined by OSHA as equipment worn to minimize exposure to a variety of hazards.
There are many different forms of PPE including:
- Eye and face protection
- Respiratory protection
- Head protection
- Foot protection
- Electrical protective equipment
- Hand protection
The general PPE requirements outlined by OSHA (29 CFR Part 1910, Subpart I, Enforcement Guidance for Personal Protective Equipment in General Industry) are not only comprehensive but also give actionable steps to ensure all your employees’ safety needs are more than met. These steps include:
- Provide PPE that is necessary to protect employees from hazards
- Ensure that employee-owned equipment is adequate, properly maintained, and sanitary
- Ensure that the PPE used is safe in design and construction
- Conduct a hazard assessment and select protective equipment accordingly
- Prohibit the use of defective or damaged protective equipment
- Provide PPE training to employees
- Provide most PPE required by OSHA standards at no cost to employees
A first aid kit is a collection of medical treatment supplies and equipment. Even in the safest work environments, there will always be some injuries that cannot be avoided. Therefore, having medical supplies available is important. Having these kits available is mandatory to remain OSHA compliant and having them accessible is crucial to maintaining a safe work environment. There is a significant variety of what these kits include.
- Gauze pads (at least 4 x 4 inches)
- Two large gauze pads (at least 8 x 10 inches)
- Box adhesive bandages (band-aids)
- One package gauze roller bandage at least 2 inches wide
- Two triangular bandages
- Wound cleaning agents such as sealed moistened towelettes
- One blanket
- Adhesive tape
- Latex gloves
- Resuscitation equipment such as a resuscitation bag, airway, or pocket mask
- Two elastic wraps
- Directions for requesting emergency assistance
This list is considered adequate for work sites of 2-3 people. A larger worksite will require additional kits.
How To Handle a Workplace Injury
When you encounter an injury on-site, it can be overwhelming. Emotions run high and there’s a tidal wave of thoughts on what to do even without considering laws and logistics. The most important action is the proactive action of creating a plan and sticking to it. That way, when an injury does occur, there is little room for panic or error.
First, evaluate the severity of the injury. If an injury is small enough to be handled with a first aid kit, there is no need to record or report it. What if it’s not that small? Stay calm and follow the plan. Here are some suggestions outlined by SHRM on what a good plan looks like when you have to address an on-site injury.
Step 1: Plan for Medical Care
Be prepared. Create a well-communicated plan that covers how an employee’s injury will be handled. This should include details such as who will be responsible for transporting an injured worker, the healthcare provider they will be taken to, and who to notify when an incident occurs. You cannot be too prepared! Once you’ve covered everything, review your plan to ensure it meets OSHA standards.
Step 2: Investigate the Incident
An internal investigation of the incident should include interviews and incident reports. These will likely come up in any subsequent litigation and OSHA investigations. Keep your focus on creating countermeasures to avoid similar incidents in the future. Remember, employees are entitled to benefits if they are injured on the job, but whether or not an injury is eligible for such compensation is decided by your insurance carrier.
Step 3: Notify OSHA
To quote SHRM: “When certain serious injuries occur, employers will need to inform OSHA. For deaths, you must do this within eight hours. For amputations and inpatient hospitalizations, you have 24 hours to report. Failure to do so could include citations of at least $750. Even in less severe cases, an injured employee may make a complaint to OSHA. Either way, be prepared for the possibility of an OSHA inspection and fines.”
Step 4: Evaluate Possible Leave
From your selected healthcare provider, take a close look at the medical certifications regarding time off. Compare this information with the injured employee’s time out of work to ensure that the time off conforms appropriately. According to SHRM, “Time off under the FMLA may run concurrently with workers’ compensation leave, thereby limiting the period during which an injured employee is absent from work. But many employers do not take advantage of that. Don’t make that mistake. Ensure that leave is designated properly under the FMLA.” SHRM goes on to say, “If the FMLA doesn’t apply, consider permitting other forms of leave, such as sick or personal time.”
Step 5: Remember the ADAAA
Most employers think their responsibilities end after the injured employee reaches maximum medical improvement. However, that is not the case. Health care providers might assign job restrictions and if the injury greatly impacts a major life activity, the employee could be considered disabled under the ADAAA. Stay on top of it. Watch for reasons to provide accommodation. Such accommodations could range from a stool to additional time off or a transfer. Consider all options prior to looking into termination. Failure to do so could leave you vulnerable to “Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charges, ADAAA lawsuits and, in many states, suits alleging retaliation by employees seeking workers’ comp benefits.”
Step 6: Scrutinize Your Policies
It is wise to err on the side of compassion when it comes to delicate topics such as an injured employee. Overall, most people want to come back to work and don’t have ulterior motives to extort for financial gain. On the flip side, you do want to reevaluate any policies that are not up-to-date or are too open-ended and leave room for abuse, all while staying legally compliant.
Step 7: Stay Informed
Don’t hesitate to use every resource within your grasp. Utilize company medical professionals, obtain additional medical information and seek recertification under FMLA, particularly if the employee’s leave exceeds the physician’s orders.
Step 8: Don’t Forget Other Workers
Injuries can cause anxiety and concern throughout the workplace. Take every opportunity to openly communicate with your employees. Address any safety issues, reiterate the company’s commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of their workers, and if appropriate, make the conversation go both ways. Ask your employees for their perspectives or for suggestions on how to improve safety measures. Do so with tact. You cannot share any medical information, but a listening ear can go a long way.
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Kayla is the Chief Innovation Officer at Hero Culture, where the passion is to create company cultures of retention using the power of personality.
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