By: Omotolu Aje
August 1, 2017
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders, such as tendonitis, make up a large share of the ergonomic hazards in the occupational health sector. According to the Minnesota workers’ compensation system report in 2015, the incidence rate for WMSDs was 29.8 cases per 10,000 full-time workers. Moreover, the workers who sustained a WMSD required a median of 12 days to recover and resume full work duties.
Recent evidence shows injury prevention programs are pragmatic interventions to help reduce injuries such as WMSDs significantly. In addition, these injury prevention programs help to transform workplace cultures, which can lead to higher productivity, reduced turnover, reduced cost and greater employee satisfaction.
Thus, the common questions about injury prevention program include:
- How does an injury prevention program work?
Every business is different, and one size of injury prevention program definitely does not fit all. Successful programs usually consist of similar interventions that identify hazards in the workplace, as well as create a plan for preventing and controlling those hazards. It is important for the management/leadership and workers to participate actively in identifying the hazards to be prevented. The program should be evaluated intermittently to determine whether it needs to be restructured or updated, as suggested by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s workplace health promotion model. Finally, and most importantly, the workers need to be educated about how the program should be executed.
- What are the costs of workplace injuries to organizations?
The main goal of injury and illness prevention programs is to prevent workplace injuries and deaths, the suffering these incidents cause workers, and the financial constraints they cause both workers and employers.
The costs of workplace injuries include direct and indirect costs. The direct costs include workers’ compensation payments, medical bills, and costs for legal services. According to the United States Department of Labor, it is estimated that employers pay almost $1 billion per week for direct workers’ compensation costs alone.
In the same vein, indirect costs include orientation of substitute/fill-in employees, accident investigation and enactment of corrective measures, lost productivity, repairs of impaired equipment, and costs associated with lower employee optimism and absenteeism.
- How do injury prevention programs protect workers and improve the bottom line?
A few studies have examined the effectiveness of injury prevention programs at both the organization and corporate levels. Evidence suggests primary prevention of worksite injuries and promotion of worksite wellness such as a pre-shift or work stretching can improve workers’ satisfaction and productivity, as well as decrease health care costs to employers.
In 2017, the Journal of American Association of Occupational Health published a study conducted among workers in Midwestern factory. The workers were assessed for WMSDs before and after a new eight-minute stretching program. Aggregate data were evaluated on WMSDs and sick days for a 60-day period at the start of the new program. The data was compared to the same duration of time in the previous year, and potential cost savings were also assessed. The results showed the stretching program led to a significant decline in injury rates and time-off requests.
- How widespread are injury prevention programs?
Despite the usefulness of injury prevention to employers and workers, in terms of injuries avoided and dollars saved, many U.S. organizations have yet to adopt injury prevention programs.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration believes that injury prevention programs provide the groundwork for innovative changes in the way employers recognize and control hazards, leading to significantly improved workplace health and safety environments. Adoption of injury prevention program will result in reduced work injuries and fatalities. In addition, employers will improve their compliance with existing regulations, as well as experience many of the financial benefits of a safer and healthier workplace described in the literature and in reports by individual organizations.
- Are injury prevention programs too intricate and costly for small companies?
Establishing an injury prevention program may seem intimidating for many small organizations. Moreover, injury prevention programs based on formal structures can be intricate to establish in a small organization because of limited budgets. Nevertheless, studies have found that simple, low-budget approaches have been just as effective in small organizations. OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, which identifies small employers that operate excellent injury prevention programs, has shown undeniable evidence that such programs can and do work for small organization. Overall, these injury programs without a doubt can be effectively implemented within a large or small organization.
Omotolu Aje, DNP, is a Mayo Clinic Health System Doctorate Nurse Practitioner provider in the Occupational Medicine Clinic.