The cost of serious on-the-job injuries — those causing an employee to miss six or more days of work — continues to soar, even after adjusting for medical and wage inflation, according to the latest findings of the annual Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.

In fact, over half of the 12.1 percent increase between 1998 and 2002 happened in 2002, despite a drop in the number of serious injuries over those four years.

However, the findings also revealed that the ranking of the top nine causes of workplace injuries was the same for the past four years, giving risk and safety managers clear direction for preventing the most expensive injuries.

“If you want to dramatically cut workers compensation costs, follow the numbers not the headlines,” notes Dr. Tom Leamon, Director of the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, who presented the 2004 Index’s findings at the National Workers Compensation and Disability Conference. “Understand why your employees get hurt and address these sources, rather than the latest safety fads. The top causes of injuries identified by the Index may not make the front page, but they’re probably driving your costs.”

The top 10 workplace injuries in 2002, along with their cost and percentage, were:

1) Overexertion, $13.2 billion, 26.6 %

2) Falls on Same Level, $6.2 billion, 12.5 %

3) Bodily Reaction, $5.3 billion, 10.8 %

4) Falls to Lower Level, $4.6 billion, 9.2 %

5) Struck by Object, $4.4 billion, 8.9 %

6) Repetitive Motion, $2.8 billion, 5.7 %

7) Highway Incident, $2.6 billion, 5.2 %

8) Struck against Object, $2.3 billion, 4.7 %

9) Caught in or Compressed by, $1.9 billion, 3.8 %

10) Assaults, $0.4 billion, 0.9 %

“All other” accounted for $5.8 billion, 11.7 %. The total cost: $49.6 billion.

Other highlights from the latest study include:

  • The top three injury causes (Overexertion, Falls on Same Level and Bodily Reaction) represent 50 percent of the total cost of serious workplace injuries in 2002, costing employers about $25 billion a year or $500 million a week. In addition, these three injury causes are the fastest growing of all injury costs.

  • Serious work-related injuries cost employers almost $1 billion per week in 2002 in payments to injured workers and their medical care providers, growing to $49.6 billion from $46.1 billion in 2001.

  • The number of serious work-related injuries fell 0.7 percent in 2002 from 2001, and 7.8 percent between 1998 and 2002.

    What can risk and safety managers do to control the impact of fewer but more expensive serious workplace injuries? Dr. Leamon says there are five key steps to take:

    1) Identify the injuries that drive your workers compensation costs, using the Index as a starting point.

    2) Prioritize the ones you want to address.

    3) Set clear targets for reducing each injury.

    4) Put in place the tactics and training that will prevent these injuries.

    5) Regularly track performance and update the plan.