Workplace accidents, injuries, and illnesses happen in industries across the board. We typically think of accidents striking in traditionally dangerous settings like logging or mining. However, even a quiet office is just one wet floor away from someone slipping and taking a bad fall. These accidents take a toll on everyone, from the employees who have to recover to the company that is counting on their labor.
How do you prevent accidents? Although there are thousands of stories about how someone got an illness or injury on the job, these factors can be boiled down into a few different categories. Accident prevention comes from understanding those common risk factors. Once the company understands, it can take proactive steps to reduce these risks.
What is Considered a Workplace Accident?
A workplace accident is any time that an employee is unexpectedly injured, physically or mentally, while performing their job. These can happen in the office or elsewhere as long as the employee is there to perform their responsibilities. When you look at the statistics, accidents are often grouped in with workplace injuries and illnesses. This umbrella covers a wide variety of issues including:
- hearing loss after exposure to excessive noise
- infectious diseases like COVID-19
- repetitive strain injuries
- slips, trips, and falls
- being struck by falling merchandise
- getting injured by malfunctioning equipment
- emotional distress from seeing an accident in the workplace
How Serious is This Problem?
Although some minor bumps and bruises can be shrugged off, many other accidents and injuries do require a visit to a clinic or hospital. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 2.7 million cases of workplace illness and injury in 2020. There were also 4,764 workplace fatalities.
Illness and injury led employees to miss a median of 12 days of work across all occupations in 2020. This is double the statistics for 2019. Lost wages and lost productivity cost both the company and the employees. This includes time costs, money, and the struggles of long recovery periods and often-painful rehabilitation.
What Causes Workplace Accidents?
The National Safety Council found that in 2020, over 90% of illnesses and injuries that led to time off fell into one of these four categories:
- Exposure to harmful substances and environments (extreme temperatures or electricity, exposure to COVID-19, etc.).
- Overexertion and bodily reaction (this includes a variety of repetitive stress injuries and back injuries from carrying loads).
- Slips, trips, and falls (fairly self-explanatory, but also includes injuries caused by trying to catch oneself from a fall).
- Contact with objects and equipment (being struck by something on the job, being caught inside equipment, etc.).
What can we learn here? There are two broad causes of workplace accidents: human error and environmental factors. In some cases, an employee is not physically up to a demanding task. They may also be performing it hastily or without supportive equipment such as a back brace. Employees can also make errors including not wearing proper safety gear, not noticing a warning sign on the wall, stepping too close to dangerous machines, etc.
The environment itself may also lead to a greater chance of injury. Perhaps the workday is structured without adequate breaks. Employees may not have the right training or safety equipment in good condition. The physical worksite may lack guardrails, adequate lighting, and more. All of these make it harder for employees to do their job safely and correctly.
How Can They Be Prevented?
Because there’s no one cause of workplace accidents, prevention needs to take a multi-pronged approach. Many business begin that before someone is even hired by requiring a pre-employment screening at an urgent care clinic. This exam looks at medical history, cardiac health, and other factors. Certain companies take it a step farther and book yearly screenings. These check that an employee is still able to do a demanding job.
Safety and equipment training is vital, but re-training can be just as important. Over the years, people may forget the details. Periodically refreshing safety protocols for everyone could mean the difference between life and death.
Companies also need to make sure they are following legal safety standards for their area and industry. If an inspection notes any problems, these should be addressed as soon as possible. Employees need to be kept in the loop about the new safety measures. After all, they are half the equation for an accident-free workplace.
Finally, if prevention fails, a business needs to analyze what went wrong. How did this accident happen? As everyone reacted to this accident, what could have gone better? What needs to change to keep it from happening again?
What About Treatment?
What if all the accident prevention measures fail and someone is hurt? Act fast. Serious injuries require serious equipment to treat. This means a trip to the local emergency room. The ER is packed with expensive lifesaving gear and is staffed 24/7 with specialists.
Meanwhile, non-life threatening injuries like sprains and minor cuts can be handled by an urgent care clinic. These centers diagnose and treat smaller problems and advise if the employee is in good shape to return to work.
Finally, a key part of accident prevention is time. That is, providing enough time off for an employee to completely recover. People who go back to work too soon are at a high risk of getting re-injured, often more seriously with more complicated recoveries.