How to Prevent Workplace Injuries and Illnesses


This article was originally published in the MassMEP Newsletter of April 2016.

Each year occupational injuries and illnesses cause employers, workers, and society to pay tremendous costs for workers’ compensation and other insurance, medical expenses, lost wages and productivity, plus the personal and societal costs associated with day to day living for injured and ill workers. A recent economic analysis suggested that traumatic occupational deaths and injuries cost the nation $192 billion annually, including direct medical costs and indirect costs such as lost wages and productivity.

The nearly 3.0 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2014 occurred at a rate of 3.2 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers, according to estimates from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate reported for 2014 continues a pattern of declines that, with the exception of 2012, occurred annually for the last 12 years.

Among all private industry sectors, the rate of reported injuries and illnesses, manufacturing is with a growing rate with 4 cases per year. Goods-producing industries accounted for 35.6 percent of all occupational health cases in 2014. The rate of injuries and illnesses remained highest among mid-size private industry establishments (employing 50 to 249 workers: 4.8 cases per year) and lowest among small establishments (employing fewer than 11 workers: 2 cases per year).

Accidents are more expensive than most people realize because of the hidden costs. Some costs are obvious — for example, Workers’ Compensation claims which cover medical costs and indemnity payments for an injured or ill worker. These are the direct costs of accidents. But what about the costs to train and compensate a replacement worker, repair damaged property, investigate the accident and implement corrective action, and to maintain insurance coverage? Even less apparent are the costs related to schedule delays, added administrative time, lower morale, increased absenteeism, and poorer customer relations. These are the indirect costs — costs that aren’t so obvious until we take a closer look. Studies show that the ratio of indirect costs to direct costs varies widely, from a high of 20:1 to a low of 1:1.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has developed an estimator tool to assess the impact of occupational injuries and illnesses on a business’ profitability. This program uses a company’s profit margin, the average costs of an injury or illness, and an indirect cost multiplier to project the amount of sales a company would need to generate to cover those costs.


In order to prevent those injuries and illnesses, it may be helpful to analyze the global causes. Current estimates suggest that fatigue is the major contributor. Fatigue is a phenomenon that everyone knows. It makes you become less alert and responsive to things around you. Despite this, the tools available to overcome the issue of fatigue are very limited. Unlike problems of alcohol or drug use, it has not been possible to detect workers who are at risk for fatigue. Countermeasures for fatigue typically rely on increasing awareness or education about the symptoms and sources of fatigue. It can be resolved by sleeping sufficiently and dealing with stress.

Increasing Deep Sleep

The goal is not to increase the quantity of sleeping hours, but to improve the sleep quality. Deep sleep is the constructive phase of sleep for recuperation of the mind-body system in which it rebuilds itself after each day. Also growth hormones are secreted to facilitate the healing of muscles as well as repairing damage to any tissues. Lastly, glial cells within the brain are restored with sugars to provide energy for the brain. Four hours of deep sleep are sufficient per night. This is the reason why famous leaders, such as Winston Churchill or Napoleon, had short sleeping time. They were able to manage their sleep quality well.

Reducing Sensitivity to Stress

Stress is part of our existence. It makes us alert and vigilant. When bad stress, such as fear and anxiety, overcomes good stress, such as concentration and creativity, we feel overwhelmed. The main goal is to use tools in order to cope with the reactiveness of stress (negative emotions, depression). There are several stress reduction techniques easy to implement. You don’t need to spend hours in meditation or yoga. Sport professionals use some of these techniques, such as breathing exercises or visualization, to improve their performance.

A combination of better sleep quality and stress reduction can dramatically decrease occupational injuries and illnesses.

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