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Serious injuries take their toll

Every day in 2000, 4,559 workers were hurt seriously enough on the job to require time off to recuperate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Truck drivers, laborers in nonconstruction jobs, and nursing aides and orderlies most frequently suffered these lost-time injuries.

Sprains lead the way

What types of injuries cause workers to stay off the job? By far, sprains and strains are most common, accounting for 44 percent of all lost-time injuries. The next three most serious injuries: bruises and contusions, cuts and lacerations, and fractures.

In 2000, 9,700 workers suffered amputated fingers, hands, arms, legs, feet or toes on the job - that's 26 amputation cases every day.

Experience counts - but not as much as you might think - in lessening the odds of suffering a serious, lost-time injury:

  • 32 percent of these severe injuries in 2000 occurred to employees who had been on the job for less than one year;
  • 32 percent had worked one to five years in their job; and
  • 24 percent had worked more than five years.

It's a double-edged challenge for safety and health pros: young workers get hurt out of inexperience; older workers can take risks for granted.

Watch your back

Back injuries continue to put employees out of work. In 2000, 411,000 back injuries occurred - that's more than 1,000 a day (1,126). It's no surprise that overexertion in lifting accounted for 256,000 lost-time injuries.

A typical back injury results in six days away from work. The most non-productive injuries involve carpal tunnel syndrome - cases average 27 days away from work. Forty-five percent of carpal tunnel cases keep workers off the job for more than a month (31 days or more).

There's no doubt lost-time injuries, as their name implies, hurt productivity. The average lost-time case keeps a worker off the job for more than a week - six days.

The price paid for lost-time cases is a major reason that many injured workers are being brought back for restricted duty. Restricted duty cases jumped nearly 70 percent in the 1990s, leveling off at about one million for the last three years.

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