Workers'' compensation insurer, Liberty Mutual, announced the findings from their first-annual Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, listing the 10 leading causes of injuries and illnesses that account for 86 percent of the $38.7 billion in wage and medical payments employers paid in 1998.

According to the Safety Index, overexertion, falls and being struck by an object are among the leading causes of workplace accidents.

When the indirect costs of workers'' compensation claims are added to the $38.7 billion in direct costs identified by the report, the total economic burden of workplace injuries and illnesses is far greater, with estimates ranging between $125 billion to $155 billion, according to the Liberty Mutual report.

The Safety Index highlights these leading causes and also provides guidelines to help reduce the human and economic costs generated by the top causes of job-site accidents.

Liberty Mutual identified the leading causes of workplace injuries and illness and associated direct cost using its own claims data and findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Academy of Social Insurance.

There is a clear link between workplace safety and a company''s performance, explained Gary Gregg, executive vice president of Liberty Mutual''s Commercial Markets, which provides commercial insurance coverage to large and medium size companies. "Our Safety Index can help focus existing safety programs on those areas that have the greatest potential negative impact on employees and employers."

Gregg noted three benefits from improved workplace safety:

  • It reduces employee pain and suffering.
  • It helps avoid the direct cost of workplace injuries -- such as wage replacement payments and medical care expenses.
  • It prevents the indirect cost of these accidents -- lower employee morale, lost productivity and the cost of hiring or training overtime or temporary replacement workers.

The leading causes of workplace injuries and illness that resulted in employees missing five or more days of work in 1998, include:

  • overexertion;
  • falls on same level;
  • bodily reaction;
  • falls to lower level;
  • being struck by an object;
  • repetitive motion;
  • highway accidents;
  • being struck against an object;
  • being caught in or compressed by equipment;
  • contact with temperature extremes; and,
  • all accident causes.

"We developed the Liberty Mutual Safety Index to provide employers with a single source of information that will help reduce the human and financial cost of workplace accidents," explained Tom Leamon, vice president and director of the Liberty Mutual Research Center, which works to prevent illness and injury at work, home and on the highway. "Actionable information is the key value of the Index. Other studies identify workplace accident frequency rates or the total indemnity cost of all types of workplace injuries. While this broad information is interesting, it is difficult for employers to use it to improve workplace safety."

by Virginia Sutcliffe