Office injuries can impact an organization on many levels. Not only is the injured employee in discomfort but he or she may also need medical care, a modified workspace, and time off to rehab. This can quickly become costly, but investing in office injury prevention keeps employees healthy and saves the organization money by maintaining a productive workforce.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), such as repetitive strain injuries and back pain, are among the leading contributors to an organization’s health, disability, and workers' compensation costs. What's harder to track, but also costly, is that MSDs cause the often overlooked phenomenon of presenteeism. When employees arrive to work in pain, they are anything but productive.
The Need to Prevent Office Injuries
Work-related discomfort is more common than you think. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 53 percent of people surveyed experienced MSD pain in the past two weeks.
Quantifying how many people suffer office injuries and the true cost of these injuries can be difficult. Most MSD cost studies focus on workers' compensation and disability claims. When an employee goes to a private doctor and doesn't have a reported disability or workers' compensation absence, that group of health care expenditures is not always documented as a work-related injury.
Workers in discomfort on the job affect the entire company. Work-related MSDs, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, low back pain, and back injuries, are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time. Time away from work means lower productivity and higher costs as well as many unseen costs, such as time spent training replacement workers and overtime pay.
Then, there are those cases where employees come to work, but discomfort or the medications they take to alleviate pain reduce their productivity. This phenomenon, called presenteeism, is defined by the Harvard Business Review as “the problem of workers’ being on the job but, because of illness or other medical conditions, not fully functioning.” While this loss of productivity is hard to quantify, it’s no less real when it comes to the cost of doing business.
The Case for Office Injury Prevention
The easiest way for an organization to reduce its work-related injury costs is to prevent those injuries from happening in the first place. However, your organization may question whether investing in office injury prevention will yield the desired results. Studies on the effects of an office ergonomics training and prevention programs show that it does.
Office of Employment Statistics data collected by Remedy Interactive shows that when a technology company began assessing and correcting injury-prone behavior, it helped that company cut its MSD workers' compensation costs by a third and employee discomfort by half. These efforts also improved employee satisfaction and resulted in 20 percent fewer missed days of work.
The case study focused on a technology company that was struggling with group health and workers' compensation costs. When an employee reported discomfort, the health and safety department would perform an ergonomic evaluation. But this system relied on the employees to self-report discomfort before the company would offer an evaluation. At that point, many employees had progressed from discomfort to injury, and hundreds of others had already sought treatment through their private medical insurance plan.
To reduce these work-related injury cases, the company implemented a comprehensive office injury prevention program. With proactive communications and injury risk assessment software, employees could automatically self-assess their work behavior and environment and receive personalized feedback. The program also provided management with better resources for analyzing their employees' progress and a more efficient way to intervene with at-risk employees. This empowered most employees to resolve discomfort and risk for injury themselves.
The company also realized these measurable results:
- Eighty-two percent of the company's high-risk U.S. population lowered their injury risk level from 2006-2009.
- Fifty-three percent of the employee population that had been experiencing constant or frequent discomfort eventually reported rarely or never experiencing discomfort.
- Employees who still developed injuries were 20 times more likely to have self-reported significant discomfort prior to their injury than employees who did not.
- Operational health and safety expenditures reduced by more than half.
- The incidence rate and cost of its average workers' compensation claim lowered by more than a third.
- Lost workdays were cut by 64 percent.
The research is clear. When employees can assess their behavior and eliminate poor habits, they can avoid injury and increase their productivity, which, in turn, greatly reduces the company's health care costs.
Implementing a Proactive Office Injury Prevention Program
A company can structure an office injury prevention plan in many ways; however, every plan should have a few basic elements to be successful. These include:
- Identifying and fully understanding injury risks in the workplace.
- Providing an efficient framework for intervention and prioritizing treatment.
- Using a consistent method for collecting and sharing risk of injury data with every part of the organization.
- Analyzing data for root causes of workplace injuries.
- Identifying the types of injuries being sustained, such as carpal tunnel, back pain, and other MSDs.
- Reviewing cost drivers and determining how many injuries led to workers' compensation, disability, or medical claims as well as the impact of lost time, days away from work, and employee presenteeism.
- Creating an employee awareness campaign to engage staff in prevention.
- Encourage preventative employee workspace evaluations and risk assessments.
For a successful program, it’s important for an organization to view office injury prevention as an investment, not a cost on the cutting floor. The time and resources spent on prevention will be far less than the cost of MSD injuries and treatment, and this investment will ultimately reduce employee discomfort and improve employee attitudes. Companies that put a premium on the wellness of their employees and make the change now will gain even greater employee productivity, employee engagement, and cost savings—not just today but well into the future.
To learn more about how your organization can better manage its office injury prevention program, try your complimentary demo of our ergonomics assessment software today.