Nearly one-half of employees injured at work never return to work or leave the labor force altogether. When put in those terms, workers who suffer “on-the-job” injuries can have a profound impact on the bottom line of Hoosier businesses; what is lost in productivity and revenue is astounding.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that five percent of Hoosier workers annually suffer a recordable injury on the job. OSHA projects these injuries account for nearly $15 to $20 billion in lost work time and workers’ compensation claims each year.
A prudent, proactive and profitable practice for any business is to promote a healthy and safe work environment — not only for the well-being of its employees, but for the health of its bottom line. I recently participated in the inaugural 60 Summits Indiana event, which enabled experts representing Indiana’s healthcare, legal, insurance and employer communities to collaborate toward implementing positive changes in the prevention and management of workplace injuries, worker disability benefits and compensation systems. The goal of the event: Assist working people in remaining injury free and staying at work, or returning to work in the event of a work-related or non-work-related illness or injury.
While one may think on-the-job injuries and workers compensation claims may apply to professions with great physical exertion or risk — such as farming, construction and manufacturing — a surprising number of office workers also are likely to experience a debilitating injury at work. For example, being sedentary in one (sometimes awkward) position for an extended length of time — such as sitting at a desk — puts sustained stress on the muscles, ligaments, tendons and discs in the back. This causes a type of injury referred to as a “repetitive stress injury,” which includes neck strain, lower back pain and radiating leg pain. This type of injury is one of the most costly health and safety problems in the workplace today. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), repetitive stress injury accounts for nearly one-third of all serious job-related injuries annually.
Another common repetitive injury is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It’s the number one disability reported by insurance companies today, OSHA states, and comprises 62 percent of all North American workers’ compensation claims.
Some injury prevention suggestions discussed at 60 Summits Indiana include the following:
Be proactive. Think about the functional areas of your workplace that include the most at-risk individuals and start there with a complete risk assessment.
Provide furniture and/or workplace modifications to aid in proper ergonomics. Adjusting the height of various work station elements often is central to achieving proper body positioning and avoiding repetitive-use injuries. Furnish your workplace with adjustable chairs, monitors, desks, tables and work surfaces to allow employees of different heights and body types to find healthy positions in which to work. This will be less expensive for you in the long-term.
Encourage employees to take regular stretch breaks or ask your human resource department to organize voluntary 15-minute walks around your workplace campus at lunch time. Partner with a local fitness center to offer discounted memberships as an employee benefit.
Ask for help. Contact the Center for Pain Management to schedule a work-site assessment. We can arrange for a physical therapist or other health professional to spend time observing your employees at work and identifying solutions to help subvert continued risk to your employees’ health. OSHA also offers free (and non-punitive) on-site consultations to small businesses that are seeking help in creating safety and health programs or identifying and correcting hazards.
A comfortable, pain-free employee is a happy, productive employee. The return on your investment of time and resources addressing ergonomic issues and your employees’ safety is a bit intangible, but the payoffs are immeasurable.
More information about 60 Summits is available at www.60summits.org.
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