When you analyze what could threaten the bottom line of your small business, you may want to factor in common workplace injuries. A recently released study by Travelers Risk Control, which analyzed 1.5 million workers’ compensation claims over a five-year period, found that small- and mid-sized businesses represent 60 percent of total claims.
Workplace injuries can be a serious threat to small businesses, both financially and in terms of morale, believes Woody Dwyer, second vice president of workers' compensation for Travelers Risk Control. “Roughly three million workers are injured per year in U.S. private businesses, and the rate of injuries and illnesses remains highest among small and mid-sized establishments.”
According to the study, the most common injuries at small businesses are strains/sprains and cuts/punctures, with materials handling being the single most common accident. “The average cost per claim for strains/sprains is $17,000 and $8,200 for cuts/punctures,” says Dwyer, who notes that small businesses suffer the highest percentage of accidents involving tools. “The costliest injury is dislocation at $97,100.”
Common Workplace Injuries Threaten the Bottom Line
The costs of common workplace injuries to a small business are three-pronged. There are the medical costs associated with the injuries, as well as workers’ compensation claims and potentially having to pay higher premiums as a result. Beyond that are the often significant costs associated with loss of manpower.
“For small-business owners, one severe injury can have a detrimental effect on what is most likely a small employee pool,” says Dwyer. “If a key employee is unable to work, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to find a replacement. The average days lost to a strain or sprain is 57. Almost two months is a long time to have a key employee out of commission.”
When it comes to spine injuries, the costs can be steep for a small business, notes Kamshad Raiszadeh, orthopedic surgeon and co-founder of SpineZone Medical Fitness, Inc. “With simple sprain/strain injuries costing approximately $17,000, and more serious injuries to the spine costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, spine injuries can significantly impact a small business,” says Raiszadeh. “Such injuries are also a major cause of lost workdays. For small businesses that don't have a lot of redundancy, this can significantly impact their workflow and finances.”
Injuries can also put other employees at risk, believes Dwyer. “When you are short an employee, it will inevitably affect other workers. For instance, if you have two electricians on staff and one is injured, the other employee will have to pick up the slack by working longer days and weeks, which puts that employee at risk. People sometimes underestimate fatigue, which can lead to dangerous situations for some employees.”
—Woody Dwyer, second vice president of workers' compensation, Travelers Risk Control
Raiszadeh agrees. “Spine injuries also have a strong psychological component,” he says. “When a co-worker sustains a spinal injury, it can affect morale by striking fear in other employees regarding the potential of them also being injured.”
Preventing Common Workplace Injuries
One of the reasons that small businesses have a higher proportion of injuries may be related to the fact that they often don’t have an environmental health and safety professional on staff, according to Dwyer. “Because the business owner has a small staff, injuries may not be top of the mind, but they really should be.”
Brian Greenberg, co-owner of TouchFreeConcepts.com, agrees that it’s impossible to predict whether you’ll have illnesses or injuries at your company. “If you are a food service company, for instance, you aren’t immune to bacterium-borne illness affecting your products at any time, especially if appropriate precautions are not in place to vastly mitigate the risk. In today’s rapid fire Internet culture where even one slight mishap or moment of carelessness can go global in minutes, coupled with the litigious nature of modern society in general, doing your utmost to ensure the health and well-being of any person visiting or working at your business site is not discretionary—it’s mission critical.”
Safeguarding your employees and your business with a predetermined protocol aimed at preventing injuries and illness may be beneficial to reducing the risk of common workplace injuries at your company.
Know your exposures. You may want to look at the most common workplace injuries—and even less common ones—to analyze your risks. “If you have a meat grinder, considering that cuts are at the top of the list when it comes to employee injuries, examine your risks and the practices you have in place regarding employee safety,” says Dwyer. “Ensure that all of the safety protocol is followed without exceptions.”
Along the same lines, you may want to look for exposure in material handling that occurs within your place of business. The handling of material is the single most common accident cause among all small business claims, according to the Travelers study. “It’s important to recognize that moving materials within a business causes a significant amount of injuries," says Dwyer. "This allows you to develop training programs to prevent such injuries.”
Train to reduce risk. A tailored training program for your business that addresses potential risks may be a good way to prevent injuries. Such a program could include very clear protocol for how to deal with safety practices in situations particular to your company.
When training new employees, keep in mind that 28 percent of injuries occur in the first year of employment, adds Dwyer. “Keep in mind that training is different than orientation,” he says. “Orientation is pointing out where the bathrooms and emergency exits are, while safety training is more in-depth. It refers to how to do a job properly and requires that you have trained staff demonstrate.”
Provide continuing education. You may want to consider keeping all employees up-to-date with the latest safety measures, advises Raiszadeh. “With an investment of time and education regarding spinal injuries and prevention strategies, for instance, a small-business owner can significantly minimize risk. Small-business owners can provide education regarding proper sitting techniques, including periodic breaks to stand and stretch and proper lifting techniques.”
Strive for positive employee morale. “Take steps to create a more relaxed work environment and you’ll have fewer injuries,” says Greenberg. “Calm and content employees are more likely to follow protocol, such as hygiene and cleaning procedures. Avoid the ‘tough it out’ mentality that encourages employees to come to work sick or push through fatigue, which only decreases productivity and puts other employees and customers at risk.”
Occupational safety goes much deeper than training and rule enforcement, believes Laura Putnam, author of Workplace Wellness That Works and CEO and founder of Motion Infusion, a well-being provider. “An organization we worked with experienced five safety-related fatalities in one year. All five workers were seasoned technicians who ‘knew better’ and yet had disregarded safety precautions at their own peril.”
Rather than blaming the employees, Putnam suggests looking at the overall culture of the work environment and the health and well-being of the employees, ensuring that they are truly “present” while at work. “A key factor is ‘perceived organizational support,’ or the extent to which employees feel that their employer authentically cares about them,” says Putnam. “When employees feel that their employer values them, this can have an enormous impact on issues like engagement, being present and safety.”
Dwyer agrees. “An engaged workforce is less likely to become injured. A Gallup study found that an engaged workforce has 48 percent fewer safety incidences.”
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