Workplace injuries are common. They can range from repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel to more devastating accidents that occur on construction sites. What is astounding, however, is that five times as many accidents occur in the workplace than on freeways, rendering the office more hazardous to health than speeding down a four-lane highway during rush hour.
About 5 percent of work-related accidents happen on freeways. Around 25 percent occur as a result of slip-and-fall accidents in all types of workplace environments. These injuries cost businesses and insurance companies up to $12 billion annually.
Slips and falls in the workplace account for about 300,000 disabling injuries and 1,400 fatalities each year. In 2006, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that approximately 234,000 falls occurred in private industry, with 789 fatalities. Around 15 to 20 percent of all workers' compensation costs are related to slip-and-fall accidents.
Environmental factors are one reason for the alarming rate of injuries. Inadequate lighting or failure to guard against icy or slippery surfaces from snow or rain often leads to preventable injuries. Floors need to have non-slip surfaces, especially in businesses where oils, solvents or other wet materials are present. Uneven surfaces, cracks or holes in walking areas should be repaired, and floors need to be kept dry and free of any obstructions. Proper footwear can also provide traction to reduce slippage.
Falls from elevations are responsible for a high percentage of workplace accidents. Workers at high elevations need to have proper harnesses, with guardrail and safety net systems in place. Unsafe ladders and the improper use of them are responsible for thousands of serious and disabling workplace injuries every year.
Businesses with periodic safety meetings, particularly those in high-risk industries, minimize the risks of injury by alerting employees to hazardous conditions, encouraging them to report potential hazards and authorizing any worker to request a work stoppage if he or she deems a condition too hazardous to continue.
Workers who sit at their desks hours at a time should make sure their chairs are at a comfortable level and practice proper posture. Short breaks to stretch and walk around should be encouraged. Frequent computer users should have their vision checked annually and use proper lighting to reduce eyestrain.
Keeping desk and work areas free of clutter, sharp objects and other potential hazards can minimize injuries at work.