The Most Common Work-Related Injury and What it Costs the Employer

posted on: Friday October 26, 2012

Even the simplest work-related injuries can be physically and financially devastating. In a previous article, we outlined everything an employer needs to know to figure how much an on-site injury will cost his or her company. To take that a step further, we can examine the cost of individual injuries. According to the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, the most disabling injuries are caused by overexertion. Of the tasks included in this category, pushing and pulling account for a significant percentage of these injuries. Many kinds of musculoskeletal injuries are the result of pushing and pulling, but the most common are back injuries. This article will review types of back injuries, treatment and recovery time, the average cost of a back injury, and how much an employer needs to make to cover the cost of one incident.

It is difficult to eliminate all pushing and pulling tasks without automating most physical work. Unloading trucks, stacking boxes, moving carts, moving dollies and platforms, transporting equipment, and even removing garbage are just a few tasks that require some pushing and or pulling. Be it moving a heavy load or repeatedly moving lighter loads, the back is vulnerable to trauma. It does not matter how physically capable a person is; even the strongest of backs can be damaged from repetitive work.

The spine starts at the base of the skull and ends at the tailbone. Within this structure, vertebrae, discs, muscles, and ligaments are all susceptible. Fractures, dislocations, torn or ruptured discs, sprains, strains, and nerve compressions can all happen along the spine, and can all be extremely painful and debilitating. From this list, fractures are probably the only thing that would not likely occur from pushing or pulling. Nerve function for the entire body depends on the protective structure of the spine. This is why major spinal cord injuries can result in paralysis. Non-paralyzing injuries will also affect a number of actions depending on the location of the problem. People experience everything from numbness to trouble moving a limb to complete immobilization due to pain.

With a wide variety of possible injuries, treatment options also vary. Some injuries are minor enough that they can be treated at home. In these cases, however, recovery time is usually 1-4 weeks and requires time away from work. As injuries become more severe, the treatment options may include physical therapy, chiropractic care, massage therapy, doctor visits, injections, supportive devices (like braces or belts), pain killers, and even surgery. Recovery time may take anywhere from weeks to months. Time away from work can be temporary or permanent. The spine is such an important structure that any damage to it must be taken very seriously.

While treatments differ from person to person, research shows that the average worker’s compensation payout for one back injury is around $8,500. This figure would likely be for a case without permanent disability or more than 6 weeks of healing time. In some cases, an impairment award is given in addition to worker’s compensation. This award – like a lumbosacral impairment award – can be anywhere from $9,000 to $135,000. Of course, worker’s compensation is a drop in the bucket compared to the total cost an employer incurs.

Using the formula described in the previous article, we can plug in $8,500 as the direct cost and come up with some numbers. The indirect cost of this one injury adds up to about $34,000 giving us a grand total of $42,500. Remember, the indirect cost includes training employees, lost productivity, insurance increases, and onsite damages amongst other things.  To determine the revenue that is required to offset the cost of injury, profit margin needs to be calculated. For a company with a 10% profit margin, revenue required is $425,000. A 15% profit margin requires $283,333, and a 20% requires $212,500 in revenue to offset the loss from this one injury.

The least expensive option for employers is, of course, to prevent injury altogether. Alternatives to manual pushing and pulling depend on the specific tasks. Some that should be immediately eliminated are those that involve starting or stopping movement of a heavy load, even if the load is on wheels; pushing or pulling heavy objects, even if only for a short distance; and any repetitive pushing and pulling, even if the load is not very heavy.

Load Movers Inc. offers products that replace many types of pushing and pulling movements. They do not require the operator to use any force to stop or start, and they can haul anywhere from 1,000 to 50,000 pounds. Their battery-operated products are built to last. For products weighing up to 1000 lbs, the Load Mover Xpress is the ideal cart puller.  For products that weigh up to 20,000 lbs the Load Mover Xtra makes an ideal trailer mover.  For products weighing up to 50,000 lbs, the Load Mover Xtreme is ideal for moving equipment.