Using What We Know To Prevent Workplace Injuries

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Using What We Know To Prevent Workplace Injuries

Whether you’re in construction or run a small office, today’s workers face a high level of risk, and as an employer, your job is to provide sufficient protection against these hazards. That means developing risk management policies that address workplace conditions and tasks and mitigate the likelihood of injury, as well as providing the tools necessary for employees to do their work safely.

More recently, though, a growing number of companies, as well as their insurers, have proposed a new possibility. What if, instead of developing policies that minimize injuries, we used the power of data to prevent them?

Where The Danger Is

If business owners are going to prevent workplace injuries, the first step is to identify the most dangerous jobs. Construction workers, for example, are subject to falls, electrocutions, and falling debris, among other onsite risks. Meanwhile, those who work in food manufacturing jobs have perhaps the most dangerous job. According to a study published by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, those in food manufacturing have a 60% higher rate of injury than those in other fields. In light of these risks, food manufacturers have become leaders in onsite injury prevention.

The most dangerous jobs vary by region, and lower paying tasks are often much more dangerous than more highly regarded professional jobs, but we do have significant data on these jobs that can help employers make changes. Additionally, new tools are constantly coming to market that can make these jobs safer. The most dangerous jobs in Australia, for example, are in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector, though construction work, postal services, and transport, and warehousing are also quite hazardous. Generally speaking, any job that involves transportation or moving vehicles, even forklifts, is more dangerous than other work. Luckily, new tools such as fatigue sensors, that can determine when operators are too tired to drive, may be able to prevent some of these accidents.

Though industrial injuries, regardless of the field, are among the most common injuries named in workplace compensation claims, workers with office jobs or who perform more sedentary work may also suffer qualifying injuries. These include serious stress leading to work-related illnesses like PTSD and depression, environmental illnesses like cancer and respiratory conditions, and spinal injuries due to poorly designed working conditions. Smart air filters may help prevent some of these issues environmental issues and new fitness sensors designed to integrate mental health metrics could help workers and employers identify subtle signs of stress and anxiety before they become more serious.

Rethinking Prevention Practices

As noted, developing standardized risk management strategies is one of the most common ways of preventing workplace injuries, but since injury rates remain high despite such protocols, such a practice is clearly insufficient. Of course, in some cases, workers may not be complying with policies, but since workers are concerned for their own health and safety, these policies tend to have the highest compliance rates – barring conflicting incentives, such as volume- or speed-based performance pay. That’s why, if we’re actually going to protect workers, we need to do more to reduce the rate of injury by changing conditions.

Based on the particular injury patterns employers we’re seeing in food manufacturing, one way that they are working to minimize injuries is by employing an onsite physical therapist. Offering onsite medical care is common in manufacturing, since workers frequently sustain serious cuts or repetitive motion injuries, and they may even be prescribed a course of treatment by those onsite providers. Employees should also be trained properly – and retrained at intervals to ensure that they don’t lapse into bad habits. It’s easy for employees to get lazy or forget how to do tasks they only perform on occasion. Routine repeat training for all staff members can prevent this problem.

The goal of employing a physical therapist isn’t to treat existing injuries. Instead, they’re meant to become part of the team on the floor, treating minor strains and complaints before they become more serious. Some manufacturing companies are also providing employees with exoskeletons to reduce the physical load they must bear during work tasks such as lifting and to prevent fatigue.

Other fields face more complex challenges in their attempt to reduce injuries, and they’re turning to data; in the United States, the CDC’s WISQARS system can help. Short for the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, WISQARS is an interactive injury database covering a variety of topics, including mechanism, intent, outcome, and region, as well as the cost of those injuries. This database allows employers to better identify trends and address those issues directly.

Know The Trends

In addition to programs like WISWARS, most industries have access to field-specific resources they can apply to industry prevention efforts. Reporting from the Workers Comp Resource Center, for example, includes valuable insights, such as average time to injury in different fields, most likely sites of bodily injury by field, and the most effective practices. Their reporting shows that healthcare professionals report injury 3-4 years from hire date on average – though 38% of injuries happen in the first year in a new role, while those in professional, office-based work typically done by those in the small business sector may not report an injury until at least 10 years after hiring.

Using industry-specific data, employers can make specific adaptations to reduce the likelihood of injury. Healthcare workers, for example, should receive additional training and support during their first year in the field, as well as any time they change organizations. Similarly, an Ontario, Canada program found that 15% of fall deaths occur in the first month of employment. Those staffers can also benefit from greater mentoring and training on working at heights before being allowed to perform such work independently. Workers also need to be supplied with proper equipment to work safely at heights in order to reduce the risk of falls, or else the employer can be held liable. The same Canadian program that studied fall deaths also uses retroactive analysis to determine whether new interventions, such as mentoring or equipment changes, are successfully reducing injuries compared to prior performance.

Setting Priorities

Finally, rather than attempting to eliminate all injuries, employers should use data on injury and employment trends to identify the greatest threats to worker safety and address those first. An injury that sidelines a worker for a few weeks is, of course, not as serious of an issue as one that ends a career, and hand injuries typically fall in the latter category. Reducing hand injuries would also benefit the healthcare providers who have to treat them, as projections suggest there will be a growing number of elective hand surgeries in the coming years.

Similarly, falls, or falling debris, are both among the most serious hazards facing workers, causing head and spinal injuries, and even death. Reassessing environments where falls are common, instituting better security practices, such as use of harnesses and enclosures, should be a top priority.

Smart application of data, prioritization of injury management, and close attention to industry trends will all help employers minimize injuries and a safe workplace is a profitable workplace.

So although you can’t completely eliminate accidents, when you take care of your employees, you also reduce the number of workers’ compensation claims, the cost of your insurance policy, and increase your business’s overall productivity. What’s more, you gain your employees’ trust and reduce worker attrition due to injury.

As an employer, worker safety is your responsibility. How will you use data to address today’s performance challenges?

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Anna is the founder and CEO of Johansson Consulting where she works with businesses to create marketing and PR campaigns.