“Be safe.” In my youth, these were words I heard from my mother every single time I left the house—every time I would get in the car with her and she would tell us kids to buckle our seat belts, every time I would grab my helmet and hop on my bike to meet friends at the park. These words became so commonplace that my brothers and I would often jokingly say “Be safe” before my mother could.
Fast-forward to the present, and I find myself telling my own adventurous children the same thing, and I still hear my mother say it when she comes to visit. My oldest now reminds me daily before I leave for work, “Daddy, have a good day and be safe.”
No matter where we are, we are frequently reminded to be aware of safety concerns. From the signs over the freeway reminding us to buckle up to the signs in the workplace providing emergency escape routes and the TV and radio alerts that remind us about inclement monsoon-season weather, safety measures are taken in every area to maintain our health and well-being.
Many preventable injuries occur in the workplace. For example, “Lift with your legs, not with your back” was a phrase heard frequently when I worked in physical therapy.
Each year, the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index collects data on workplace injuries in the United States and ranks the leading categories of injury in terms of their direct costs to businesses in workers compensation. In the 2016 report (based on data from 2013), the five leading causes of injury in the workplace accounted for 64.8 percent of businesses’ total injury-related cost burden in 2013. This translates to more than $40 billion in U.S. worker compensation costs.
Here are the top five causes of injury in the workplace and how to help prevent them:
1. Overexertion involving outside sources.
This category encompasses injuries related to pushing, lifting, holding, pulling, carrying or throwing objects. It accounts for $15.08 billion in direct costs and nearly 25 percent of the overall national workplace-injury burden.
Prevention: Avoiding overexertion injuries may be as simple as asking for assistance from someone else. Asking your employer for training and instruction in proper lifting technique is another option.
2. Falls on the same level.
These falls accounted for costs of $10.17 billion and 16.4 percent of the total national workplace-injury burden.
Prevention: Maintaining a clean and clutter-free environment will help avoid slip-and-fall injuries. Wearing anti-slip shoes and re-covering slippery surfaces with non-slip materials will also help reduce risks.
3. Falls from a higher level to a lower level.
These falls accounted for costs of $5.4 billion and 8.7 percent of the total national workplace-injury burden.
Prevention: Avoid these injuries by following the specific safety guidelines designated by the equipment manufacturer or by the operating organization’s safety protocol. Make sure ladders and frames are inspected, checked and repaired properly to help lessen the risk of falls.
4. Being struck by an object or equipment.
This accounted for direct costs of $5.31 billion and 8.6 percent of the total injury burden.
Prevention: Many of these injuries can be avoided simply by utilizing personal protective equipment like hardhats, safety goggles, face shields, gloves, proper footwear and safety vests.
5. Other exertions or bodily reactions.
The injuries in this category are related to bending, climbing, reaching, standing, sitting, slipping, or tripping without falling. They added direct costs of $4.15 billion, accounting for 6.7 percent of the total injury burden.
Prevention: Here, it is important to look at environmental factors. To avoid neck and back injuries or muscle strain from prolonged sitting, examine your computer workstation setup to optimize it for good postural position. Also, making time during your day to get up and stretch or walk will help maintain muscle flexibility, an important aspect with injuries associated with sitting for long periods of time.
Accidents will happen and injuries will still occur, even with exemplary safety guidelines and standards. The goal is to continue to reduce these workplace occurrences through education and training. Being smart about the task at hand and the environment in which you are working can keep you safe. Being smart is being aware, and being aware is the first step toward being safe.
Be smart, be safe.