A workplace injury is an event that happens during work duties that either causes a new injury or illness—or makes an existing condition worse. It’s important to note that not all workplace injuries happen in the workplace. Remote workers and “deskless” workers may be in the field, but if they are injured because of their work this is still considered a workplace injury.
Common Types of Workplace Injuries
An American worker is injured on the job—on average—every seven seconds. In 2021 alone, there were 2.6 million nonfatal workplace injuries across the United States. While some industries—such as healthcare and transportation—see more injuries than average, these incidents can happen at any organization. Some injuries are especially common according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
- Exposure to dangerous chemicals or environments. This can include exposure to loud noises, asbestos, radiation, corrosive solvents, temperature extremes, and other dangers.
- Slips, trips, and falls. These types of workplace injuries can happen when someone is walking and falls or trips on a surface. A potentially more dangerous kind of fall can happen when someone is working at height—such as up a ladder, on scaffolding, etc.—falls from there.
- Head injuries. Head injuries can include traumatic head injuries, which happen when the brain is shaken inside the skull by a direct impact. This can cause bruising, bleeding, and tissue damage to the brain. Another type of head injury is a penetrating injury—where an object pierces the skull and causes direct damage to the brain.
- Repetitive strain injuries. This type of workplace injury happens when a worker repeatedly performs an activity, such as throwing, lifting, turning, or other actions. Over time, these repeated actions can lead to overexertion.
- Other strains. Lifting too much weight or lifting incorrectly can also cause strains and damage to muscles and tendons.
- Back injuries. Lifting heavy weights or even standing for extended periods can lead to strain and injury of the back. Impacts with objects and falls can also cause slipped discs, crushed vertebrae, and other back injuries.
- Injuries caused by contact with objects. In the workplace, heavy objects can fall from shelves and onto workers. Heavy machinery can also crash into workers or cause crushing injuries.
What Happens After a Workplace Injury?
In most states in the U.S., employers are required to carry workers’ compensation if they have a specific number of eligible workers. In most of Europe, Canada, and other parts of the world, workers’ compensation is also among the employee benefits workers get. This insurance can offer injured employees benefits that pay for medical care and replace part of the worker’s income.
How you respond to a workplace injury will depend partly on whether you’re covered by workers’ compensation rules and partly on the severity of the injury. If the injury is minor, the worker may be treated on-site using a first aid kit. If the injury is serious, emergency services may need to be called to get immediate care.
If the employee is covered by workers’ compensation, the process to be followed will depend on your state’s laws and potentially on the workers’ compensation insurance provider—if the insurance is provided by a third-party carrier. In general, employers and employees will need to follow these steps.
- The employee will report the workplace injury to the employer within the specified number of days outlined by state rules.
- The employer will give the employee forms from the insurance provider.
- The employee will fill out the forms and give them back to the employer.
- The employer will send these forms to the insurance provider.
- The insurance provider will launch an investigation into the accident and will determine whether the employee is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
- If an insurer determines a worker is eligible for benefits, they will make an offer.
- No matter what decision is made by the insurer, the worker may have the option of working with an attorney to appeal the decision or to file a claim to seek more compensation.
Regardless of whether your worker is covered by workers’ compensation insurance or not, you will also want to take the following steps.
Have a workplace injury process in place
Before your first workplace injury, make sure you’re ready. Have a policy in place that helps workers know what they should do next if an injury happens on the job. This could include details about who workers should contact, how they need to report the injury, and who they can turn to for medical or first aid help. Once you create a policy, make sure it’s compliant with OSHA regulations.
Report serious injuries to OSHA
If you have more than 10 employees, you will use OSHA Form 301 to report serious injuries within 24 hours and fatal injuries within 8 hours. You may also need to fill out OSHA Form 300 to keep a log of your workplace injuries. OSHA has an employer portal that can help you understand your obligations and can help you stay compliant. You can also use the portal to stay aware of changes in requirements.
Investigate the cause of the accident
You will want to create incident reports and conduct interviews or review any security footage to determine what happened. Conducting your own investigation can help determine whether your injured worker is eligible for benefits. It can also help you if you are named in a legal action related to the incident.
Your company may have unlimited paid time off or other benefits that allow workers to take time off while they heal. Alternatively, your workers may need to take unpaid time off. If a workplace injury is serious, your employees may need to take disability leave until they can return to work duties. In some cases, workers may be eligible for workers’ comp leave and leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) at the same time. Discussing the types of medical leave your worker is eligible for is important. Your employee wants to know how much time they have to heal, and you need to know how long you will be without the talent of your worker.
Find a way to cover work
While your employee is away, you may want to hire a temporary worker, put some projects on pause, or ask some employees to work overtime. Consider your options and find ways to limit the impact on productivity while an injured employee is unable to work.
Have a plan for accommodations
Once a worker has achieved maximum medical improvement, doctors may place restrictions on what they can safely do. For example, a doctor’s advice may be that an injured worker is not allowed to lift heavy objects. These workers may be protected under the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which would mean that you might be required to provide reasonable accommodation for their disability. In some cases, you may be able to make accommodations to allow a worker to continue tasks. For example, an office worker may be able to complete assignments from home. A worker who cannot lift heavy weights may be provided with a trolley to carry heavier items.
Continue to communicate
Work with your employee, workers’ compensation insurance provider—if you have one, and company physicians if you have them. You want to support your worker in returning to work when they are medically able to do so. You may also want to communicate with the rest of your team about any changes you’re making to relevant policies to create a safer workplace. Other employees may be anxious after witnessing a co-worker get injured. Continuing the conversation about safety can be reassuring.
How Can I Prevent Injuries at My Organization?
Everyone has a role to play in preventing injuries. Here’s how your organization can help employees enjoy a safer workplace.
Offer safety training
Workplace safety training can teach your workers best practices so that they can reduce their risk of workplace injuries. This type of training can help your employees to learn how to work around heavy machinery, chemicals, or how to avoid repetitive strain injuries.
The best training is customized and offers workplace safety tips that represent the hazards of your specific work environment. For example, if you have “deskless” workers your training may include safety tips for different worksites. If you have employees who are on the road as part of their role, you may want to include traffic safety training.
There are a few ways you can offer training to your employees. You can use a provider of workplace training or sign your employees up for online classes that teach first aid and workplace safety. Another option is to create your own custom workplace safety training using Connecteam training. Your safety videos can be supplemented with files for workers to review and you can use quizzes in Connecteam to make sure your employees are learning.
Create reminders and strong signage
Training shouldn’t be a one-time event. Put posters and safety sheets in your workplace to remind workers about best safety practices. You might want to include signs about company policies for handling corrosive chemicals—for example—or you may want to post warning signs around heavy machinery.
Keep and review incident reports
Any injury in the workplace will mean some paperwork. You will want to digitize and store incident reports and other paperwork in a system like Connecteam. This way, you’re compliant with OSHA laws—if they apply to your organization—and you have a digitized paper trail if your company is ever investigated or there is a lawsuit launched after a workplace injury.
Create strong safety policies
Walk through your workplace and look at your current policies and operations regularly. Try to identify any potential hazards and work to address them before they cause an injury.
Robust safety policies can help too. If your teams work around heavy machinery—for example—create policies to make sure equipment is turned off if it’s being maintained or serviced. Review these policies often as a company so workers are aware of them.
Provide resources to keep workers safe
Keep personal protective equipment—such as gloves, eye goggles, masks, aprons, and other gear—close to where workers need to wear PPE. Post reminders about the need to wear PPE—if your workplace requires it—and make sure there is enough of it for every employee.
In addition, create a first aid station—stocked with bandages, scissors, splints, gloves, and other equipment—in a visible location at your workplace. Review the contents regularly to make sure it is well-stocked.
An eye-wash station can also be important in many workplaces. A fire extinguisher and even an automated external defibrillator (AED) can be useful too.
Workplace Injuries Are More Than an “Ouch”
Workplace injuries cause suffering for your employees and can mean a loss of productivity in the organization too. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the risk of these incidents at your company and there are steps you can take now to make sure that if an injury happens, you know exactly what to do.