The large majority of us will think of cheesy solicitor advertisements when someone says ‘workplace injuries’. Nonetheless, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that over 621,000 people sustained a non-fatal injury at work in 2015/16, and 144 workers were killed.
Beyond the personal anguish that comes with suffering an injury or losing a loved one, workplace injuries cost the economy billions every year. The HSE revealed that injuries and illness in the workplace cost the UK economy a combined £14.1 billion in 2014/15. This huge cost is spread amongst employees, employers and society at large.
On average, a non-fatal injury costs the economy £7,400 per case, and a fatal injury costs an eye-watering £1.6 million. These costs consider the non-human financial costs, such as recruitment costs and loss of income, as well as human financial costs associated with reduced quality of life or loss of life. The cost to society includes lost labour hours resulting in the reduction in national productivity.
In this article, we’ll be carrying out a thorough analysis of the cost of workplace injuries to your organisation, and exploring how such incidents can be avoided through awareness, controls, qualified personnel and equipment.
The Cost to Employers
For employers, the cost of injuries and deaths at work is monumental. This is due to the extensive legal fees, recruitment costs, loss of production and sick days that accompany most workplace injuries.
The HSE found that UK employers paid out £2.8 billion in 2014/15 due to workplace injuries or deaths. These incidents resulted in a staggering 4.5 million days being taken off work. For each of these days, productivity was reduced and in many cases revenue directly impacted.
On average, 16 days are taken off work per injury or illness. Based on a 5-day working week, this is over 3 weeks’ productivity lost due to an occurrence which probably could have been avoided, as we’ll discuss later in this article.
In some cases, the cost to employers is financial alone. However, depending who is at fault and the size of a company, reputational damage can also be caused. This can have a significantly larger and longer term impact on the organisation.
The Cost to Employees
Whilst employers often bear the greatest financial impact, workplace injuries clearly take their toll on the employees who are affected too.
Firstly, there’s the physical suffering that goes with any injury, as well as the psychological pain to the victim and their family. Then there’s the financial cost to the individual, both human and non-human.
According to the HSE, non-fatal injuries cost employees an average of £4,500 in human financial costs per case in 2014. This includes the costs associated with rehabilitation and reduced quality of life.
The non-human financial costs vary from case to case, and include loss of income and legal fees associated with making a claim. The HSE found that this averaged £1,200 per case in 2014.
Fatal injuries cost the family of a victim considerably more financially, with an average cost of £103,700 per case.
What are the Most Common Causes of Injury at Work?
By understanding which injuries are the most common, companies can begin to determine the risks and takes steps to reduce them.
The HSE reported that over a quarter of all fatal injuries, which are the most financially damaging, were as a result of employees falling from height. The second greatest cause of fatal injuries was being hit by a moving vehicle, something which can impact almost every sector.
Non-fatal injuries were most often due to handling, lifting or carrying goods, with a total of 122,000 reported cases. A further 119,000 workplace injuries were due to slips, trips and low-level falls.
Surprisingly, almost every industry experiences a high number of non-fatal injuries, although certain higher-risk industries have a greater percentage of employees affected. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector, for example, reported 4,390 injuries for every 100,000 employees in 2015/16. Meanwhile, the construction and transport sector reported an average of 2,775 injuries per 100,000 employees.
How to Reduce Workplace Injuries
To help reduce the £14.1 billion cost of workplace injuries, and the huge non-financial cost to those affected, employers must constantly be aware of the dangers their staff encounter. This can be ascertained through risk profiling.
When carrying out risk profiling, employers must make several considerations:
- The nature and level of the threats faced by an organisation
- The likelihood of adverse effects occurring
- The level of disruption and costs associated with each type of risk
- The effectiveness of controls in place to manage those risks
The HSE provides further guidance on risk profiling here.
Being aware of the potential of workplace injuries is, of course, not enough. Controls must also be introduced to ensure appropriate steps are in place to avoid accidents:
- Provide accessible instructions on how to operate any equipment that has the potential to cause injury if misused
- Offer regular (and in some cases compulsory) training on how to operate such equipment
- Carry out regular risk profiling to determine whether any injuries are becoming increasingly common or new risks have arisen
- Provide all employees with a way to report injuries and ensure a follow-up process is in place (See RIDDOR)
- Outline a health and safety policy and ensure it is communicated to all employees
The HSE provides further guidance on controlling risks here.
It is recommended to spread the responsibility of health and safety throughout the organisation. In some circumstances, corporations may also work with trade associations, unions and local councils.
When appointing individuals to help your organisation meet health and safety standards, it is essential that they are competent. This means they must have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to manage health and safety in your workplace. This does not, however, mean that you must select a single individual. You could:
- Allocate one or more of your employees the responsibility of ensuring your organisation meets the required health and safety standards
- Instruct an individual or organisation outside of your company to take responsibility for ensuring your organisation meets health and safety requirements
The HSE provides further suggestions on delegating responsibility here. This page also provides insights on what must be considered when using external help, such as members of the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR).
Lastly, appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) should be in place where applicable. PPE can be used to protect the head, face, eyes, ears, lungs, skin, hands, feet and body, as well as increasing visibility to others.
It’s important to note that PPE is not a substitute for taking necessary precautions to reduce risks by other means. PPE should be considered complementary to the above processes, as an additional aid to minimise risks and avoid injuries.
Employers are responsible for the provision of such equipment and must:
- Ensure other controls are in place to limit reliance on PPE
- Select PPE carefully and ensure employees are trained to use it properly and how to detect and report any faults
- Regularly assess the suitability of PPE, such as how well it fits and whether it’s appropriate for females as well as males
Are You at Risk of Workplace Injuries?
It is only through risk profiling, controlling hazards, delegating responsibility and providing the necessary PPE that your organisation can minimise the likelihood of workplace injuries. Should you fail to do so, the costs could be extravagant and employee wellbeing seriously affected.
Trading since 1977, WISE Worksafe has 40 years of experience in protecting people at work. Should you be looking for further advice on the selection and provision of PPE for your team, get in touch.