Few events are as disruptive to a business as work-related injuries. And yet, in many industries, like agriculture and construction, they happen frequently, resulting in time lost, unnecessary expenses, and sometimes significant health challenges for your employees. Work injuries can negatively impact your workers' morale and lead to work stoppages, lawsuits, or worse.
But it's not all bad news. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workplace injuries are going down, with a 5.7 percent decrease between 2019 and 2020. That decrease isn't a one-year anomaly, either. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that between 1970 and 2019, worker deaths per day decreased from 38 to 15, while injuries were reduced from 10.9 per 100 workers to 2.8 per 100 workers.
Why the significant reductions? Much of the credit goes to the Occupational Safety and Health Act—or OSH Act—of 1970, which created OSHA to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for American workers. OSHA sets and enforces standards and offers training and assistance to business owners to help them create safe working conditions for their employees. Since the establishment of OSHA, injury rates have plummeted throughout the U.S.
But accidents still happen, and employers must understand their responsibilities, as well as their rights, regarding worker safety. To help you do this, we’ve taken a deep dive into what work injuries are, how they can be avoided, and how to handle them when they happen.
What Qualifies As a Workplace Injury?
As the name suggests, a work-related injury is any illness or injury that is related to the work environment and caused partly or fully by events or exposures in that environment.
That definition might seem vague, so let's look a little closer. It includes obvious work-related injuries, such as when a roofer falls off a roof that is currently under construction, or if someone is exposed to toxic chemicals that cause lung damage at a factory.
It may include illnesses or injuries that occur in a central working location, but can also include injuries happening elsewhere, whether they lead to hospitalization or not. Let's say, for example, that your employee is meeting with a client at a local restaurant and has a car accident on the way there. That would be considered a work-related injury. On the other hand, if the accident occurs when your employee is commuting to work, before they punch in, it wouldn't.
Common workplace injuries may be sudden events, such as slipping and falling, or can happen over time, such as a worker who develops carpal tunnel syndrome from the repetitive aspects of her work. In some cases, they may include mental illness—but only if the employee can prove that the mental illness is related to the conditions on the job.
What Are Not Considered Workplace Injuries?
Sometimes, illnesses that appear at first to be work-related, turn out to not be occupational injuries:
- If the employee is present in the work environment, but is there as a member of the public and is not working
- The injury or illness surfaces at work, but is actually the result of a non-work-related event or exposure that takes place outside of work
- The injury results from the employee eating, drinking, or preparing food for personal consumption
- The employee is engaged in personal tasks at the work environment outside their assigned working hours
- The employee catches a common cold or flu while at work (there are exceptions to this for other illnesses, however, such as COVID-19, tuberculosis and hepatitis A)
- Self-inflicted injuries, or injuries caused by employees fighting
- Injuries that occur while the employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or while the employee is violating company policy or committing a crime against the company
Top Ten Workplace Injuries
Some injuries are more likely to happen in the workplace, and some injuries happen more in one industry than another. Here, according to Liberty Mutual's 2021 Workplace Safety Index, are the most common types of actions leading to injuries that happen in, and are caused by, the workplace.
1. Handling Objects
Common in warehousing, retail, and other areas where staff people routinely lift heavy boxes, injuries resulting from the strains of doing so cost an astounding $13.30 billion a year in the U.S.
2. Falls on the Same Level
Second place goes to falls that happen on one level, such as someone slipping on a wet floor. These falls cost $10.58 billion a year.
3. Falls to a Lower Level
From falls off roofs to taking a bad step off a ladder, injured employees in this area cost roughly $6.26 billion annually.
4. Being Hit by Objects
Being hit by heavy objects or a piece of equipment is seen frequently in the construction and warehousing industries, and costs insurance companies $5.61 billion a year.
5. Awkward Postures
Your employee steps awkwardly out of a delivery truck and twists his wrist catching hold of the door. Injuries such as these cost $4.71 billion each year.
6. Vehicle Crashes
Whether the fault is your staff driver or another person, car crashes result in claims to workers comp of $3.16 billion annually.
7. Slip or Trip without a Fall
A loose floor tile catches the heel of an admin and she sprains her ankle. Slippery or uneven walkways cost insurers $2.52 billion a year.
8. Colliding with Objects or Equipment
Common with factory workers, collisions of employees with machinery or other objects results in costs of $2.46 billion.
9. Caught in Equipment or Machines
Job injuries such as these are often seen in agriculture and factory settings, and cause workplace accidents costing $2.01 billion a year.
10. Repetitive Motions Involving Microtasks
Coming in at $1.66 billion a year, costs for injuries related to hand- and shoulder-intensive repetitive motions can mount up quickly when rehabilitative costs are taken into account.
What Should I Do When a Worker Is Injured?
As a business owner, you should already be following OSHA's recommendations for a safe workplace. That may mean anything from supplying ergonomic furniture for desk workers to requiring that all employees wear masks to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
An important part of your safety protocols should include training all employees in the proper use of machinery and equipment, assigning an employee to monitor safety for high-risk jobs, and maintaining a well-stocked first aid kit for minor injuries. It's a good idea to distribute a list of emergency contact numbers to all employees, including access numbers for medical treatment and care, and keeping one near you at all times.
But what should you do if, despite your best efforts, someone is injured on the job? In the tense moments after an injury, your employee's life—and your own liability—might be dependent on your ability to keep a cool head. Here are a few actions that should be taken in the immediate aftermath of an accident:
- Assess the injury: Is it something that can be handled with a band aid and some first aid cream, or not? Err on the side of caution, unless you have emergency medical training yourself. Someone may say they feel fine after a heavy box falls on them, but days later, show signs of a concussion. Do not move the employee if there is any possibility of a head, neck, or back injury. Call first responders as quickly as possible.
- If possible, get your injured worker to a safe place if the environment they’re in has caused the injury. If there is a risk that others could be hurt, such as with a toxic gas leak, evacuate the immediate area and wait for first responders to tell you what to do next.
- Once the person's injuries have been properly dealt with, you will need to begin gathering information and engaging in record keeping regarding the incident. You will want to question others who saw the accident to ascertain if the worker was wearing the appropriate protective equipment and handling themselves properly around machinery. Gain a full understanding of exactly what happened, including times and locations, while it's still fresh in people's memories.
Once the immediate needs are taken care of, and the injured employee is receiving medical attention if needed, it's up to the employer to begin the work of handling workers' compensation insurance claims, if necessary.
It is imperative that you begin this work as soon as possible, since a delay could result in an insurer denying compensation coverage. The first step is talking to the employee if possible. If their injury isn't severe, you will give them the appropriate paperwork to fill out the details of the injury. You may need to interview co-workers who saw the accident to fill in additional details.
The paperwork will look different depending on the state you are in. Your state’s Workers’ Compensation Board should provide access to it, possibly online. In California, for example, workers’ comp and other labor-related forms can be found here.
Note that it's important for you as an employer to have consistently open communications with your employees. You want them to feel free to come to you if they experience a personal injury, even if they don't need health care at that time. Even if the illness or injury only shows itself over time, workers' compensation law and/or the Department of Labor (DOL) may hold you responsible for, say, skin damage caused by exposure to gasses or chemicals—if you were able to prove that the damage came about because of circumstances at work.
Submitting the Claim
Once you have a full picture of what happened by talking to the employee and co-workers, and once you and the employee have filled out the necessary paperwork, you'll submit the claim for workers' compensation benefits to your insurer. Depending on where you are located, you may also need to submit material to your state's division of workers' compensation, even for minor injuries.
Your insurance carrier will either approve or deny the claim. If it's approved, they'll contact you and the employee, who will be notified of how and when they will receive payments. The injured person can use this money for medical bills or in any way they wish. The employee can accept this offer, or negotiate for a larger settlement, if they feel that is necessary. If this is the case, they will probably retain a workers' compensation system lawyer to assist them.
If the claim is denied, your worker still has legal rights to further action. They can request a reconsideration of the claim, or they can file a formal appeal through the state. This is unlikely to happen unless the employee's injury was significant.
This, in any case, is the process for nonfatal workplace injuries. If a worker was killed on the job, you would be working with the next of kin, and death benefit settlements would go to them or into the worker's estate.
Handling Workers’ Comp Effectively
Knowing what to do with a workplace injury is an important part of being an employer. Work injuries can be one of the more challenging aspects of being a business owner, whether you have a small business or are head of a corporation.
To learn more about how workers' comp payments function, check out Hourly's Complete Guide to Workers' Comp Payments, which has common FAQs and reviews the process of receiving payments.
In most states in the U.S., workers' comp is required by the DOL, so you will need to have a policy in place to protect your interests, and those of your workers. Hourly makes workers' comp easy, with pay-as-you-go premiums, top-rated coverage, and a simple and affordable platform.