High Human Costs of Workplace Injuries Could Deepen Labor Shortages In 2023

High Human Costs of Workplace Injuries Could Deepen Labor Shortages In 2023

Use data to catch an injury before a worker reports pain to minimize injuries and keep valuable workers in jobs.

Beyond the immense direct costs of workplace injuries lies something deeper and far more significant: the human cost. One of the first essentials in the Surgeon General’s recently published framework for mental health and wellbeing under “Protection from Harm” is to prioritize workplace physical and psychological safety.

In his book, “Everybody Matters,” Bob Chapman says that “leadership is the stewardship of the lives entrusted to you.” Businesses have a responsibility to their workers to not cause them pain, suffering or disablement and to provide a work environment that fosters well-being. 

Seventy-three percent of frontline workers said that they are facing increased pressure and stress at work over the last 12 months. These figures translate into higher injury rates across the board. Despite almost all workers stating they would report safety concerns, many don’t have a lot of confidence in management to address these issues. Alarmingly, 38 percent of workers have had to spend their own money to keep themselves safe at work in the last 12 months. 

Looking forward to 2023, it is likely that workers will continue to experience increased pressure and safety concerns with the deepening global recession. For businesses, this is an issue that cannot be ignored. More than half of frontline workers said that they would leave if they had the opportunity. Labor shortages are already a major concern facing the warehousing, retail, logistics and manufacturing sectors. Another rising concern is the psychosocial risks and the impact on mental health associated with work. 

The role of safety and the human cost of workplace injuries cannot be underestimated. It is vital that businesses understand the full consequences of workplace safety and take action now to avoid a further exodus of valuable workers. 

The Real Human Cost

The direct costs of workplace injuries are well-documented. What is less frequently discussed are the far-reaching human costs. 

When a worker is injured, the personal cost can be astronomical. The indirect costs associated with an injury are estimated to be four to ten times higher than the direct costs.

Following an injury, workers can experience both physical and financial suffering. They may be unable to work and therefore unable to pay their own or their family’s living expenses. They may also suffer from chronic pain, leading to further complications such as a loss of quality of life. This can quickly spiral out of control, leading to serious mental health issues or even substance abuse. Workers who have been injured are much more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety as a result. A recent study also showed that workers who have received workers' compensation earn 15 percent less in the ten years following their injury. 

The Impact on Family Members

The consequences go beyond the worker themselves; they can also impact their families. A study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reported that occupational injury can impose a formerly unrecognized health burden on family members of injured workers. Family members of severely injured workers have a 15 percent increase in the total number of musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) outpatient claims and a 34 percent increase in the mean cost of MSD claims compared to family members of non-severely injured workers within three months after injury. An injury can lead to additional stress in coping with financial expenses and caring for an injured family member with chronic pain or substance abuse issues. Workplace injuries are also associated with a higher likelihood of divorce or marital separation. 

The Impact on Team Members and Culture

A single injury can also affect the rest of the team at work. Workplace injuries can result in a drop in morale and impact the stress that workers left behind face as they have to pick up the slack. It could also potentially mean hiring a less experienced person to replace the injured worker. This can have a notable impact on productivity and the stresses placed upon the rest of the team.

For businesses, an injury can also be a significant blow to the workplace culture. Other employees are likely to talk and feel less safe at work. Rumors often spread as team members start to look for someone or something to blame. This cycle can lead to more disengagement across the board. 

Investing in Data-Driven Safety Initiatives

Considering all of the hidden costs and consequences of workplace injuries, it is paramount that organizations have the insight to address them, not only to target cost savings and improve the bottom line but also to deliver responsible leadership, minimizing the human cost of doing business. 

Technologies for proactive injury prevention that measure high-risk movements like bending, twisting, overhead reaching or open-arm push and pull can generate the data required to pinpoint risks and stop them before they escalate. 

Dashboard analytics can enable management to see data for each worker out on the floor. They can understand the average hazards per hour, the frequency of each type of hazard, where these hazards are happening (department or job roles) and locate quickly where the risk is being generated from. Some insights include:

  • Displays of work and task intensity in individuals or groups
  • Timelines for hazard fluctuations throughout shifts or weeks
  • Organizational work factors to target work-rest cycles or job rotation requirements
  • Identifying safety champions
  • Patterns and trends 
  • Workers resistant to change
  • Repetitive hazardous movements around common tasks 
  • Coaching opportunities

All this information can assist organizations with the implementation of task modifications, substitutions or requirements for the introduction of tools and aids, coaching or change management. 

Workers Want Technology, but Correct Implementation is Essential

Safety Culture’s latest “Feedback from the Field” report based on about two thousand adults in hospitality, retail, manufacturing and logistics workers in the United Kingdom, Australia and the U.S. said that 40 percent of workers have said they would like to see an increase in technology investment from their employers. 

Well-thought-out implementation strategies, however, are key to the successful collection of the data these technologies bring. If workers aren’t on board with the initiative, data is not generated. Without recognizing and addressing the benefits alongside the barriers, potential pitfalls in the implementation process, adoption challenges and, most importantly, the failure to understand if it is a right fit for your organization will end with piles of shiny objects collecting dust in the bottom drawer. 

It’s also important to consider change management strategies to lessen change fatigue, which has been increasing since the pandemic. Forty-five percent of human resource leaders report that their employees are fatigued from all the changes in the last couple of years and the use of open-source change strategies is 14 times more likely to achieve change success than top-down programs. 

When done right, the cost of preventative measures pales in comparison to the financial and livelihood cost of injuries. The value of the investment in technology and the data it brings for organizations provide value across all areas of business and better employee well-being, and engagement inadvertently increases business performance.

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