While the number of serious workplace injuries has dropped, those injuries continue to hit the bottom-line of employers hard, according to two Liberty Mutual studies announced Tuesday at the National Safety Council’s World Safety Congress and Expo.

The rate of growth in the cost of these injuries slowed significantly: to 0.7 percent in 2003 from 6.5 percent in 2002, after adjusting for inflation. But the sheer size of the financial impact of workplace injuries remains: Employers spent $50.8 billion in 2003 on wage payments and medical care for workers hurt on the job.

The sixth annual Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index uncovers trends in the leading causes of the most serious workplace injuries between 1998 and 2003. And the Liberty Mutual Chief Financial Officer Survey offers a glimpse of how senior financial executives at large and mid-size companies view safety.

Some positive trends, according to the surveys, include:

  • A slowing of the rate of growth in the cost of serious workplace injuries, driven by a sharp decline in the number of such accidents, which fell 6.2 percent in 2003, almost half the total 13.5 percent decline over five years.

  • The real cost of two of the top five causes of serious workplace injuries fell sharply between 2002 and 2003: the cost of Bodily Reaction dropped 4.7 percent, driven by an 11.6 percent decline in the number of these accidents; and the cost of Struck by Object fell 3.4 percent, because of a 12.5 percent decline in the number of these injuries.

  • Senior financial executives clearly see the value of workplace safety. More than 60 percent of those surveyed report that each $1 invested in injury prevention returns $2 or more.

  • The ranking of the top 10 causes of serious injuries has been consistent over the past five years, giving a clear path for making the workplace safer.

    On the negative side, the surveys also point to the work that remains, including:

  • Managing the sheer financial impact of workplace injuries, which grew almost $1 billion per year between 1998 and 2003, when adjusted for inflation.

  • Controlling the rapid inflation-adjusted growth in the cost of two of the leading injury causes between 2002 and 2003: the cost of Highway Incidents grew 12.8 percent, despite a 4.0 percent drop in the number of these accidents; the cost of Falls on Same Level grew 10.4 percent, almost one-third of its total five-year growth.

  • Continuing to build partnerships between risk managers, safety directors and senior financial executives. Risk managers and safety directors should continue to help senior financial executives understand the process of improving safety. This group most often mentions better training as their preferred safety intervention. But while important, training is only one part of a comprehensive plan to improve safety.

    “While progress has been made in recent years, these results point to the clear need for a comprehensive safety management system,” says Karl Jacobson, a senior vice president and general manager of Liberty Mutual Loss Prevention. “Continuing to cut the number of serious injuries and their financial burden will require companies follow a safety improvement process that includes strong safety organization, management leadership and employee participation.”