The True Cost of Hand Injuries in the Workplace

There are many reasons an employer may choose to commit to a health and safety program in the workplace. According to a white paper by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE),these are the top 10 motivations for taking action:

1. Cost of workers’ compensation insurance: 59%
2. “Right thing to do”: 51%
3. “Increases profitability”: 33%
4. Federal/state safety rules: 31%
5. “Too many accidents”: 29%
6. Employee morale: 26%
7. Productivity: 23%
8. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) fines: 20%
9. Recommendations of outside experts: 13%
10. Employee concerns: 5%

All of these are valid reasons to invest in employees’ safety, but one reason is missing from this list: There’s a direct positive correlation between investment in safety, health, and environmental management programs and its subsequent ROI.

Examining the direct and indirect costs of hand injuries can help businesses better understand how those costs impact the bottom line.

THE COST OF HAND INJURIES

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports more than one million emergency room visits come from hand injuries each year, making them the second leading cause of work-related injury. BLS also makes it clear that hand injuries aren’t cheap: “The average hand injury claim has now exceeded $6,000, with each lost-time workers’ compensation claim reaching nearly $7,500.”

Furthermore, hand injury costs can vary greatly by the injury type. Stitches can run up to $2,000. A laceration can cost as much as $10,000. And a severed tendon can easily cost more than $70,000.

The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery did a study on the frequency, cost of treatment, and lost productivity from hand and wrist injuries and found the following:

• Hand and wrist injuries cost the most compared to other emergency department injuries at $740 million a year (knee and lower limb fractures cost $562 million annually, skull-brain injuries cost $355 million, and hip fractures cost $532 million)
• Productivity costs account for 56 percent of total costs from hand and wrist injuries (a higher percentage than treatment and care)
• Hand and finger fractures were the most expensive of hand injuries, costing approximately $278 million each year

These numbers clearly show the steep cost of workplace hand injuries; however, numbers like these only reflect direct costs. Adding indirect costs to the mix further increases the total cost of injuries—and strengthens the financial argument for appropriate hand protection.

DIRECT VS. INDIRECT COSTS

The cost of workplace injuries includes direct and indirect costs. Direct costs, which are easier to quantify, are made up of medical expenses, costs for legal services, workers’ compensation, doctor visits, and rehabilitation. According to the OSHA, “It has been estimated that employers pay almost $1 billion per week for direct workers’ compensation costs alone.”

Although harder to measure, indirect costs of workplace injuries are actually more damaging than direct costs. The ASSE white paper warns that “Indirect costs of injuries may be 20 times the direct costs.” Those indirect costs include training replacement employees, accident investigation, lost productivity, repairs to damaged property or equipment, costs associated with lower employee morale or higher absenteeism, and even poor community relations or an injured business reputation.

A simple cost calculator puts both costs into perspective. The average work related injury results in $38,000 in direct costs and four times that amount—$152,000—in indirect costs. A company with a 10% profit margin would need to make nearly $2 million in additional revenue in order to offset the direct and indirect costs of just one injury.

WORKPLACE SAFETY AND THE BOTTOM LINE

According to OSHA, workplace injuries continue to be a serious issue in the United States with nearly 50 workers injured every minute of the work week and 17 workers dying on the job each day. These injuries are costly for businesses, resulting in $128 billion in losses each year or one-quarter of each dollar of pre-tax profits. Hand injuries are not only one of the most common types of workplace injuries, but also one of the most expensive.

OSHA’s Office of Regulatory Analysis suggests that companies that implement effective safety and health programs can expect a return of $4 to $6 for every $1 invested. Outside of the obvious cost benefits of having appropriate PPE and a safety and health program, there are many statistics that suggest the improved productivity and employee morale are equally valuable for a company’s bottom line. Furthermore, those programs and preventative measures improve client confidence and can also make the difference between winning bids or even government contracts.

CONCLUSION

In order to run a profitable business, investing in employee safety is critical, from having the right PPE for your employees to enforcing a comprehensive safety program. The upfront investment is far outweighed by the long-term positive impact on your business.

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