September 26th, 2001

More Liberty Mutual Data on Workplace Safety

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In August, Ergoweb reported on the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. Since then, more details of Liberty Mutual’s survey have become available.

Liberty Mutual data shows that ninety-five percent of business executives report that workplace safety has a positive impact on a company’s financial performance. Of these executives, 61 percent believe their companies receive a return on investment of $3 or more for each $1 they invest in improving workplace safety.

The survey also reveals executives realize the benefits of workplace safety go beyond the company’s bottom-line, with 70 percent reporting that protecting employees is a leading benefit of workplace safety.

The survey also helps shed light on the impact two types of costs associated with workplace accidents are having on U.S. businesses: Direct costs, or payments to injured employees and their medical care providers, and Indirect costs, such as lost productivity, overtime costs, etc. Ninety-three percent of executives surveyed see a relationship between these costs, with 40 percent of them reporting $1 of direct cost generates between $3 and $5 of indirect costs. These figures are in line with other agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), who indicate that indirect costs associated with a workplace injury can be as much as three to five times the direct costs.

By comparing the findings on indirect costs with its own research on the direct costs of workplace accidents and illness, Liberty Mutual calculates U.S. businesses are paying a staggering $155 billion to $232 billion on workers compensation losses annually. The Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index announced this spring provided the first-ever ranking of the 10 leading causes of workplace accidents based on the direct cost of each accident cause. The Index estimated the total direct cost of all workplace accidents was $38.7 billion in 1998, the most recent year for which data was available at the time.

Moreover, the survey findings reveal that business executives may be focusing attention on certain causes of workplace accidents at the expense of others, and may need to realign their workplace safety priorities.

For example, executives report “Repetitive Motion” is the most important cause of workplace accidents and that they will focus workplace safety resources on this accident cause. However, five other accident causes each produced greater direct costs for companies in 1998, according to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. The Index reported that workplace injuries caused by “Repetitive Motion” produced $2.3 billion in direct costs for employers in 1998, about a quarter of the $9.8 billion of the leading accident cause – “Overexertion.”

Many have focused on ergonomics and certain musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) also being labeled repetitive motion injuries (RMI). What is not always apparent is that many overexertion injuries are caused by the same risk factors and RMIs, most specifically high force being produced in an awkward posture. Effective ergonomics analysis and proper controls can reduce exposure to these types of risk factors.

“Workplace safety has a ripple affect, either positive or negative, on so many aspects of U.S. business operations today,” said Joseph Gilles, Liberty Mutual Executive Vice President, Commercial Insurance. “The first step for executives is to take preemptive measures to prevent employee pain and suffering caused by workplace injuries. Identifying the accident causes that have the greatest impact on their company and focusing workplace resources on these will help a company reduce costs and achieve strategic corporate goals — such as assuring employee satisfaction and health, positioning the company as a low-cost provider, shortening production and delivery time, and improving product quality. Given the importance of workplace safety, companies should make sure their efforts are directed at those accident causes that have the greatest potential impact on their operations and employees.” Mr. Gilles is available to comment on The Executive Survey of Workplace Safety.

Further results include:

  • 95% of respondents believe workplace safety has a positive impact on a company’s financial performance.
  • 24% report a substantial positive impact
  • 86 % of respondents feel workplace safety provides a return on investment
  • 61 % feel that $3 or more is saved for each $1 invested
  • 13 % report $10 is returned for each $1 invested
  • 93 % report a close relationship between the direct and indirect costs associated with a workplace accident
  • 40 % feel that between $3 and $5 dollars of indirect costs exist for each $1 of direct costs
  • The median response was that $3 of indirect costs exist for each $1 of direct costs
  • 82 % of respondents feel their company currently places a high priority on workplace safety
  • 70% of respondents report that protecting employees is a leading benefit of workplace safety.
  • 49% report that protecting employees from the human and financial costs is the top benefit
  • 25% of respondents report that employee training is the most important element of an effective workplace safety program.
  • 22% believe that management commitment is the most important element
  • 16% believe internal communication is the most important element
  • 98% feel that direct employee participation is necessary for effective workplace safety.
  • 69% believe it’s critical
  • Respondents report that benchmarking a company’s workplace safety performance is an important tool for improving workplace safety performance over time.
  • 71% indicate that they compare their company’s workplace safety performance to other companies

Survey results are based on interviews with 200 executives responsible for workers compensation and other commercial insurances at 125 mid-size firms (100 to 999 employees) and 75 large companies (over 1,000 employees) representing a range of geographic locations and industries.

This survey is part of Liberty Mutual’s ongoing focus on Workplace Safety. It follows the Spring 2001 release of the Workplace Safety Index, the first ranking of accident causes by direct costs to employers using Liberty Mutual claims data, combined with findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Academy of Social Insurance. Both studies are available at www.libertymutual.com.



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