Mixed Results Abound from Serious Workplace Injury Study

November 22, 2004

Risk managers and safety professionals got some bad news and good news about serious on-the-job injuries – those causing an employee to miss six or more days of work – from the latest findings of the annual Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.

First, the bad news: The cost of these workplace injuries continues to soar, even after adjusting for medical and wage inflation. In fact, over half of the 12.1 percent increase between 1998 and 2002 happened in 2002, despite a drop in the number of serious injuries over those four years.

Now the good news: The ranking of the top nine causes of workplace injuries was the same for the past four years, giving risk and safety managers a clear roadmap for preventing the most expensive injuries.

“If you want to dramatically cut workers’ compensation costs, follow the numbers not the headlines,” noted Dr. Tom Leamon, director of the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, who presented the 2004 Index’s findings at the National Workers Compensation and Disability Conference. “Understand why your employees get hurt and address these sources, rather than the latest safety fads. The top causes of injuries identified by the Index may not make the front page, but they’re probably driving your costs.”


The top 10 workplace injuries in 2002 were:

Injury Type: Cost: Percentage:
Overexertion $13.2 billion 26.6 %
Falls on Same Level $6.2 billion 12.5 %
Bodily Reaction $5.3 billion 10.8 %
Falls to Lower Level $4.6 billion 9.2 %
Struck by Object $4.4 billion 8.9 %
Repetitive Motion $2.8 billion 5.7 %
Highway Incident $2.6 billion 5.2 %
Struck against Object $2.3 billion 4.7 %
Caught in or Compressed by $1.9 billion 3.8 %
Assaults $0.4 billion 0.9 %
All Other $5.8 billion 11.7 %
Total $49.6 billion 100 %

Other highlights from the latest study include:

The top three injury causes (Overexertion, Falls on Same Level and Bodily Reaction):

* Represent 50 percent of the total cost of serious workplace injuries in 2002, costing employers about $25 billion a year or $500 million a week;
* Are the fastest growing of all injury costs. Costs for each of the top three rose 3.8 percent, 5.9 percent and 11.8 percent, respectively, between 2001 and 2002. Between 1998 and 2002, costs for each rose 16.4 percent, 25.7 percent and 28.7 percent, respectively;
* Serious work-related injuries cost employers almost $1 billion per week in 2002 in payments to injured workers and their medical care providers, growing to $49.6 billion from $46.1 billion in 2001.
* The number of serious work-related injuries fell 0.7 percent in 2002 from 2001, and 7.8 percent between 1998 and 2002.

“Workplace injuries aren’t inevitable,” said Leamon. “Risk and safety managers improve safety every day. And significantly – one Liberty Mutual workers’ compensation client cut serious repetitive motion claims by 58 percent in two years. But nothing happens without a plan.

“And those plans that have the greatest impact share five key steps. Identify the injuries that drive your workers compensation costs, using the Index as a starting point. Prioritize the ones you want to address. Set clear targets for reducing each injury. Put in place the tactics and training that will prevent these injuries. And regularly track performance and update the plan.”

More information on the latest Workplace Safety Index findings and improving workplace safety is available at www.libertymutual.com.

How the study works

The 2004 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index is reported by the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety. It analyzes data from 1998 though 2002.

For each study, researchers combine workers’ comp information from Liberty Mutual, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Academy of Social Insurance to provide a broad perspective on the causes and costs of serious workplace injuries.

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