As a safety leader or employer, it’s easy to think about workplace injuries in terms of numbers, data, and statistics. Chances are you’ve heard them all before.
Approximately 4,500 workers are killed on the job each year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)—more than 12 people every single day, including weekends and holidays. And nearly three million serious on-the-job injuries are logged every year by employers. And let’s not forget the dollar data—because all those injuries come with costs. For employers, for the injured employees, for the government, for taxpayers—for everyone. The National Safety Council estimates the cost of workplace injuries—both fatal and non-fatal—totals nearly $200 billion annually.
Despite these staggering figures, numbers are just numbers. If you hear them all the time, their impact wanes. It’s important to remember that there is more to workplace accidents than those numbers reveal. In this article, we’ll discuss the hidden costs of workplace injuries—from the psychological to the judicial and everything in between.
Not surprisingly, the psychological damage caused by workplace injuries and deaths can far outweigh the direct costs. And it’s not just the injured parties who are affected. Consider the workers who witness a horrific incident involving a co-worker or friend. Or the families of the injured workers who must grieve the loss of their loved ones or bear the burden of helping them rehabilitate. And that’s all in addition to the psychological damage suffered by the injured party.
A recent OSHA report states, “Workplace injuries can diminish self-esteem and self-confidence, increase stress between spouses, children and other family members, and strain relations with friends, colleagues and supervisors.” These indirect costs of workplace accidents are not to be scoffed at; they add human experience to the statistics we’ve become numb to.
In addition to psychological damage, injured workers take post-accident hits to their paychecks as well. According to an OSHA report, “A recent study found that workers in New Mexico who receive workers’ compensation benefits for wage loss caused by workplace injuries lose an average of 15 percent of the earnings they would have been expected to earn over the 10 years following the injury.” Even when workers’ compensation benefits are taken into account, injured workers’ make, on average, nearly $31,000 less over 10 years than their uninjured counterparts. That’s truly adding insult to injury—and amplifying the challenges workers face when recovering from on-the-job injuries.
The hidden costs of injuries aren’t just hurting workers either. An injured business reputation is a major overlooked consequence of workplace accidents. Injured reputations can impact a company’s ability to win contracts or bids, which directly impacts the bottom line.
A reputation as an unsafe work environment also hurts a business’ ability to fill job vacancies. Since most people don’t want a job that puts them at risk every day, it can be tough to find qualified candidates for open positions once an unsafe reputation has been established.
Skyrocketing Insurance Premiums
Another oft-overlooked hit that companies take after workplace accidents is related to insurance premiums. As one of the largest line items on most employers’ annual budgets, this critical business expense can grow exponentially as a result of on-the-job injuries or deaths. An article from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) states, “Companies with a history of zero or only minor incidents can see their insurance premiums drop to 75 percent of what their competitors are paying for the same policy.” Conversely, a history of an unsafe workplace can lead to premiums as high as 300 percent the going rate! If that doesn’t make you want to make some substantial safety investments, nothing will.
When we talk about criminal charges as an unforeseen consequence of workplace injuries, we’re not being melodramatic. Employers can be criminally charged for injuries that occur to their employees while on the job—especially when it comes to workplace deaths.
Just recently, Randall Miller pled guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter in a case involving the death of his employee, Sarah Jones. Sarah was killed when she was struck by a train while shooting a scene for a film. Not only will Randall, who was director of the film, have to live with the fact that he knowingly put his entire film crew’s life in danger, but he will also spend the next two years in jail—followed by eight years of probation—and pay a $20,000 fine.
Whether it’s a hand injury or a loss of life, the cost of workplace accidents spans much farther than hospital bills and workers compensation. And although the impact on the bottom line is severe, it’s important to realize the non-monetary consequences of injuries as well, including everything from psychological trauma to jail time. By humanizing the injury statistics we hear so often, we can recognize the many, far-reaching consequences of accidents, and stay motivated to do everything possible to prevent them.
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