No matter where you’re employed, workplace accidents can happen. Whether an employee cuts their hand on a letter opener or falls off of a piece of heavy machinery, injuries can happen in any workplace across all industries. Here is a guide to the most common causes of workplace injuries, how they happen and how businesses need to handle them to keep their employees safe and productive.
What is a workplace injury?
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a workplace accident as an unplanned event that results in personal injury or property damage,” says JoAnn Dankert, a senior safety consultant with the National Safety Council (NSC), a public service organization that promotes health and safety within the United States.
Dankert explains that from an NSC perspective, the term “incident” instead of an accident is a more accurate way to describe “any unplanned event that results in personal injury or damage to property, equipment, or environment, or an event that has the potential to result in such consequences.”
In short, accidents imply an act that was out of anyone’s control and would happen regardless of mitigation strategies or safety practices, conversely she explains that “modern safety management views all incidents as preventable.”
How common are workplace injuries?
Despite the continued advancement of workplace safety regulations, workplace injuries are extremely common. According to Dankert, “The NSC estimates that a worker is injured on the job every seven seconds.”
These injuries range from minor to fatal. The industries that saw the highest number of preventable injuries at work in 2019 (and were medically consulted for reporting purposes) were government-based, educational and health services, and manufacturing, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, published by the NSC.
“As of 2019, these injuries result in 105 million days of lost productivity on an annual basis,” Dankert says. “On average, this means that some workers are able to return to work fairly quickly (if they even miss any time at all); but, it also means that many workers experience long-term disabling effects from their job-related injuries.”
According to Dankert, workplace injuries could actually be more common than the data suggests. “It is also important to note that these workplace injury statistics only reflect known work injuries,” Dankert says. “Many workers never report their accidents, and they never receive the medical treatment or financial benefits they need to recover.”
The most common causes of workplace injuries
- Overexertion and bodily reaction
- Slips, trips, and falls
- Contact with objects and equipment
- Transportation incidents
- Violence and other injuries by persons or animals
- Exposure to harmful substances or environments
- Nonclassifiable injuries
- Fires and explosions
Dankert explains that the top three leading causes of work-related injuries — overexertion and bodily reaction; slips, trips, and falls; contact with objects and equipment — account for more than 84% of all nonfatal injuries involving days away from work.
All three of the top causes of injury can happen in just about any workplace — which could be why they’re considered the most common. It’s not hard to see from the explanations below how these nonfatal injuries could easily happen even in an office setting.
Overexertion and bodily reaction can be caused by excessive physical effort like pushing or lifting objects, or repetitive motion that causes muscle strain. Slips, trips, and falls can occur on slippery surfaces, down stairs, or from ladders or other multi-level surfaces. Contact with objects and equipment can occur when a body part is squeezed between two objects, a person is struck by a falling or moving object, or another similar instance.
As the NSC notes in their publication of this data, the leading causes for nonfatal workplace injuries and fatalities are not always the same. Transportation incidents account for the majority (40%) of workplace fatalities across industries.
What happens when a workplace accident occurs?
As Dankert mentioned previously, not all workplace injuries are reported. However, when an incident occurs in the workplace, there is a specific process that should be followed to ensure the continued safety of all involved.
“The investigation process should begin after arranging for first aid or medical treatment for the injured person(s),” Dankert says. “In getting started, remind everyone involved—especially workers— the investigation is to learn and prevent, not find fault.”
According to Dankert, the post-incident investigation process include multiple steps for the employer including securing the area where the injury occurred, identifying witnesses, interviewing the worker and witnesses, documenting the scene with photos or video, completing an investigation report, and following up with corrective actions to prevent future incidents.
For the injured party, once medical treatment is administered, the employer should have processes in place for the injured party to follow up regarding time off work, compensation programs, and similar employee benefits. It is always best to check with a human resources representative or manager regarding the next steps after a workplace injury occurs.