From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

2008 Safety Index: Ergonomics Related Injuries Top Disabling Injury Costs

The estimated direct workers’ compensation costs in the United States for the most disabling workplace injuries and illnesses in 2006 were $48.6 billion, according to the 2008 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. The report shows that ergonomic-related injuries categories of overexertion and slips and falls are the biggest culprits, comprising more than half of the US disabling occupational injury burden. The 2008 Index also captures cost trends for the overall and leading causes of this category of injuries – defined as those injuries that cause an employee to miss six or more days from work.

Ergoweb estimates the total cost for ergonomics-related injuries in the Index at $30.9 billion,  or 63.6%. The Index captures only the direct worker’s compensation costs of these disabling injuries. When indirect costs are considered, which are estimated by experts to be anywhere from two to five times direct costs, Ergoweb estimates the true cost to USA business at $61.8 to $154.5 billion.

The Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety began an initiative to develop a reliable ranking of the 10 leading causes of disabling workplace injuries and their direct costs to industry in July of 2000, and the Index has been released annually since then.

To develop the 2008 Index, researchers combined Liberty Mutual 2006 workers’ compensation claims costs with the injury frequency information reported by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics for injuries occurring that year. The relative proportions of each type of injury were then applied to the national estimates of the cost of workers’ compensation benefits from the National Academy of Social Insurance, which includes information from a broad range of insurance providers.

The 10 categories ranked in the index produced 87.9 percent of the entire cost burden of disabling work-related injuries in 2006, and the top five accounted for 80 percent of the $48.6 billion cost.

  • The ergonomics-related category of Overexertion injuries topped the list at 25.7 percent of the cost to business, at $12.4 billion. Liberty Mutual defines overexertion injuries as those related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying or throwing. The insurance company notes that historically, overexertion injuries have accounted for more than one-quarter of the total direct costs of the top 10 most disabling workplace injuries
  • The ergonomics-related category of Falls on same level accounted for 13.3 percent and $6.4 billion
  • The ergonomics-related category of Falls to a lower level ranked third, at 10.8 percent and $5.3 billion
  • The ergonomics-related category of Bodily reaction accounted for 10 percent and $4.8 billion. This type of injury occurs when a worker a tries to regain a loss of balance during bending, climbing, and slipping or tripping without falling. 
  • Struck by object accounted for 8.9 percent and $4.3 billion
  • Struck against objects claimed 5.1 percent and $2.5 billion
  • Highway incidents accounted for 4.9 percent and $2.4 billion
  • Caught in or compressed by – injuries resulting from workers being caught in or compressed by equipment or objects – took 4.4 percent and $2.1 billion
  • The ergonomics-related category of Repetitive motion captured 4 percent and $2 billion
  • Assaults and violent acts claimed 0.9 of the costs, at $0.4 billion.

Between 1998 and 2006, the costs of repetitive motion injuries showed the most significant decline (down 35.3 percent). Falls on same level and falls to a lower level each showed overall cost increases of 17.9, followed by struck against object, which increased by 16.2 percent.
In Liberty Mutual’s news release about the Index, Barry Bloom, Ph.D., Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston praised it as a reminder to the public health community of the challenges workers and employers face every day in the prevention of occupational injuries. According to Bloom, one of its most important contributions is that it has added the “cost dimension” to quantifying the public health burden of work-related injuries in the United States. “By incorporating costs, the Index integrates measures of injuries beyond simple surveillance statistics – it includes society’s financial burden of workplace injuries.” 

Source: Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety