The average industrial workplace comes with several hazards and risks that have the potential to pose a serious threat to workers’ safety. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), the vast majority of deaths and injuries that occur in the workplace are preventable.
To protect employees from injury and death, implementing comprehensive industrial safety measures is paramount.
Preventable Deaths in the Workplace: By the Numbers
According to a report from the National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to workplace safety advocacy, preventable work deaths were steadily on the rise between 2014 and 2016 before stabilizing in 2017, which saw 4,414 preventable deaths. Between 2016 and 2017, there was only a 0.5% increase in preventable workplace deaths.
In addition to workplace death statistics, the report also presented several workplace injury statistics. For example, with 4.5 million injuries resulting in some type of medical consultation, the cost of workplace injuries in 2017 amounted to approximately $161.5 billion. The vast majority of individuals sustaining fatal work injuries were men, representing 93% of injured employees.
The three industries with the highest number of preventable fatal work injuries in both 2016 and 2017 were construction, transportation/warehousing, and agriculture. Although the construction industry had the highest number of fatal industries both years, these injuries decreased between 2016 and 2017, from 959 to 924. Transportation- and warehousing-related fatal injuries, however, increased from 764 to 819, while agricultural-related fatal injuries decreased slightly, from 567 to 557.
The utilities, information, and financial activities sectors had the lowest number of preventable fatal work injuries. The mining industry also came up with a fairly low number of fatal work injuries, although there was a significant increase between 2016 and 2017, jumping from 86 to 110 deaths.
Due to the relatively small size of the mining industry compared to larger sectors, such as construction, mining’s preventable fatal work injury rate is relatively high, with 12.6 deaths per 100,000 mining workers in 2017, compared to 9.1 deaths per 100,000 construction employees.
What Are the Most Common Workplace Injuries? Physical Overexertion and Bodily Reaction
The most common types of injury, accounting for 33.5% of injuries, totaling 295,830, were the result of overexertion and bodily reaction.
These nonimpact injuries are caused by lifting and pushing, as well as repetitive-motion tasks. These types of movement can result in incremental levels of stress on the body, which can eventually lead to a real injury. Typically, these occupational injuries lead to approximately 13 days of lost work.
With these types of injuries, the back is the most commonly affected body part. While everyone is susceptible to stress injuries, they most often impact workers between the ages of 45 and 54, especially those in the transportation and warehousing fields.
Contact With Objects and Equipment
After overexertion, the next most common injuries are equipment-related, which, with a total 229,170, account for 26% of workplace injuries. These injuries may involve being struck by equipment, getting compressed or crushed, becoming trapped in a collapsing structure, or being injured by vibrations. These injuries typically lead to approximately five days of lost work.
Equipment-related injuries, which most frequently result in cuts, lacerations, and punctures, can affect any part of the body. While 45- to 54-year-olds are most at risk for overexertion injuries, equipment-related injuries are more likely to impact workers aged 16 to 24. These injuries are typically seen in the agriculture, construction, and transportation and warehousing industries.
Falls, Slips, and Trips
These injuries are the third most common type of workplace injuries, accounting for 25.8%, totaling 227,760. Slips may occur when a worker is unable to stop themselves from falling or tripping. Injuries may also occur when workers are sitting and fall to a lower level from an elevated height, or when workers jump to a lower level from a higher one. Like overexertion injuries, these types of injuries typically result in a long period of lost work — approximately 12 days.
Similar to equipment-related injuries, falls of all kinds can affect any part of the body, in the form of sprains, strains, and tears. Workers who are 55 and over are the most at-risk, especially if they work in transportation, warehousing, or agriculture.
Other Types of Workplace Injuries
Since more than 85% of workplace injuries fall into one of the above three categories, the remaining injury types are much less common. The breakdown of injury types is as follows:
- Transportation incidents: 47,910 or 5.4%
- Violence and other injuries caused by persons or animals: 39,750 or 4.5%
- Exposure to harmful substances: 37,110 or 4.2%
- Nonclassifiable: 3,730 or 0.42%
- Fire and explosions: 1,470 or 0.17%
As for fatal work injuries, men and women fared similarly in roadway incidents, explosions, and exposure to harmful substances or environments. However, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal fall or equipment-related injury, while women are much more likely to suffer a violent fatal workplace injury.
Workplace Safety Tips
The above statistics help to give a visual representation of the specific risks that should be addressed within the workplace. These numbers also serve as a good starting point for both employers and employees to strategize the best ways to address workplace safety in their own offices, plants, and factories.
Below are some general tips that can be applied to a range of different workplaces.
Workplace Safety Tips for Employees
- Understand the importance of good posture. The body is designed to move in specific ways; however, many people move in ways that diverge from the body’s intended functions. At first, it may feel unnatural to pay attention to and deliberately correct the way you’re standing, walking, sitting, or interacting with a piece of equipment, but doing so can significantly reduce the risk of overexertion injuries. For help in achieving better spinal alignment, utilize good posture exercises or purchase a good posture brace.
- Use required safety equipment. If a job requires the use of a hardhat, a face shield, eyewear, or protective gloves, workers must take care to ensure they are using these items correctly and at all necessary times. This should not be taken lightly or considered optional. In many cases, protective gear can mean the difference between a minor injury and a fatality.
- Make sure you’re taking breaks. Resting your mind and body periodically is important for maintaining both physical and mental health. Even less-physical activities can be taxing — for example, staring at a computer screen all day can harm your vision and cause headaches, while repetitive equipment operation can lead to fatigue and mental fog. To stay alert and keep your body in shape, taking breaks and stepping away periodically is essential.
- Be aware of your surroundings. It sounds simple enough. After all, humans use their senses every day to assess their environments. However, familiarity can result in a lack of awareness. With full-time employees spending at least 40 hours a week at the workplace, they may become so used to their surroundings that they fail to register unsafe conditions.
- Report unsafe working conditions. As soon as someone notices an unsafe work condition, it should be reported to superiors immediately. If managers are unaware of a safety issue, they will not be prepared to fix it.
Workplace Safety Tips for Employers
- Maintain emergency exits. In emergencies, employees need to be able to exit as quickly and calmly as possible. Use emergency signage, stickers, and tapes to clearly show employees where emergency exits are located. Make sure these exit areas are clear of any obstructions to allow for easy access.
- Use safety labels and signage. Labeling is a highly efficient way to communicate information about hazardous situations to all employees. Not only can the labels provide information and warnings, but they can also instruct workers on how to handle specific emergencies.
- Reduce workplace stress. Stress can cause a wide range of physical and mental health issues, increasing the likelihood of carelessness or distraction. Depending on the situation, stress in the workplace may indicate that employees don’t feel comfortable being open with their superiors, and may even hesitate to report unsafe conditions. Creating a positive work environment is a lot like tending a garden; it takes hard work, but the long-term benefits make it well worth the effort. Employers should foster open lines of communication to ensure their workers are getting what they need to excel and remain focused, and are taking care of themselves.
- Adhere to OSHA requirements. Founded in 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has compiled and updated a comprehensive set of safety regulations and standards. These standards cover a wide range of safety issues, including emergency exits, fire protection, crane construction, walking surfaces, commercial driving operations, machine guards, and beyond. Adhering to these regulations not only provides your employees with a safe work environment, but it also guarantees that you will pass during an unexpected OSHA visit.
- Focus on preventative maintenance. Preventative maintenance helps keep industrial facilities running smoothly and efficiently with very little downtime. Part of preventative maintenance also includes regular safety checks. During your preventative maintenance procedures, make sure that safety supplies like first-aid items and personal protection equipment are stocked and in good condition.
- Establish workplace fire safety. Exposed wires, combustible dust, faulty equipment, and flammable materials can all pose serious fire risks in industrial workspaces. While there’s always some inherent danger in certain industries, many fire accidents can be prevented. Scheduling periodic equipment checks, predictive maintenance, following OSHA standards, and keeping operation areas clean can help reduce fire-related risks.
- Conduct safety training in the workplace. Employees who receive safety training are empowered with the knowledge they need to handle unsafe conditions and emergencies. There are many ways to impart this knowledge to workers, but the most important thing is that they remember it during high-stress situations. To help make the lesson stick, you may wish to utilize some kind of memory trick, like a mnemonic device or a catchy tune.
- Schedule periodic risk and safety assessments. Sometimes, after doing a lot of work upfront to enhance overall workplace safety, companies may feel that they’ve done their due diligence and assume their safety management plans will handle themselves. However, without consistent monitoring and improvements, these strategies can fall apart. The best way to maintain a strong safety program is to keep it in check, regularly assess workplace practices, and frequently refresh your employees on best practices.
- Use technology to enhance your safety practices. Industry 4.0 has the power to enhance all aspects of industry, including safety. For example, in a recent study from the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), they found that using wearable devices to track worker fatigue could help employers pinpoint performance issues and prevent injuries.