When the topic of workplace injuries comes up, the discussion typically centers on serious injuries – the ones that really cost employees in terms of pain, missed work time and potential long-term disability, not to mention and employers workers' comp claims, lost productivity and other costs. While those big, serious injuries certainly are attention grabbers, minor on-the-job injuries – those everyday repetitive strains, minor sprains, and minor falls – matter too. If you’re looking to reduce your workers’ compensation premiums and claim expenses (and who isn’t?), no injury is too small to notice. Companies that take a proactive approach encourage reporting of “discomfort” before it becomes a full blown work-related, lost time injury. Like the guy in the old Fram oil filter commercial said, “You can pay me now or pay me later.”
Minor Injuries May Not Be So Minor After All
Perhaps the most important reason to take minor workplace injuries seriously is that what starts out as “nothing” can become “something” in a hurry. For instance, an employee that experiences some back stiffness and soreness due to constant or frequent bending, may eventually develop a herniated disc if the constant bending is not addressed. A shoulder strain can worsen into rotator cuff tear, leading to surgery and perhaps causing permanent disability. A seemingly innocuous fall in which the employee receives a minor bump on the head may cause a concussion. For these reasons, employees should be encouraged – via a clear workplace policy – to report all injuries, no matter how minor; every workplace injury should prompt an incident/injury report, and trigger automatic follow-up with the affected employee. That way, both employee and employer are protected should that minor injury turn out to be more serious than it seems.
This point is well-illustrated in a Kentucky workers’ compensation case, in which a seemingly minor bump to the leg progressed to a serious, potentially disabling injury. The employee, who had been with the company for a decade, decided that a small welt on his shin was “no big deal” and went on with his work without reporting the injury. That welt became gradually more serious over time, eventually developing into an open wound that required specialized care to resolve. Since the injury went unreported for more than 60 days, his workers comp claim was denied, as was a later appeal. The outcome, of course, wasn't ideal for anyone. The employee wasn’t compensated and the case resulted in three years of legal hassles – all for the lack of a simple incident report.
Just a lack of reporting injuries for as little as 30 days can potentially raise workman’s compensation costs by 24%.
Small Injuries Can Illuminate Larger Safety Risks
Another reason that close attention to minor workplace injuries is important is that too many of them can be an indicator of hidden safety risks. Perhaps safety measures and/or equipment need to be updated. Maybe poor compliance with existing safety measures is a problem, or perhaps you have employees who aren't quite up to the physical demands of your workplace. The point is this: a pattern of frequent, minor, workplace injuries means there’s likely room for improvement in workplace safety. Identifying and resolving the underlying causes of those injuries will benefit your workers and your company, reducing injury numbers and costs, as well as potentially heading off more serious workplace incidents. After all, the ideal way to handle workplace injuries is to prevent them in the first place.
Identifying those hidden issues isn't always easy, so getting some professional help may be your best route to a safer workplace. Among the services that occupational health and safety professionals can offer to enhance workplace safety are workplace ergonomics assessments, job analysis to quantify the physical requirements of specific jobs in your workplace, physical abilities testing to ensure that employees are well matched to those physical requirements, and employee safety training. When it comes to workplace injuries, “Pay me now or pay me later,” has rarely been so true.