Introduction to workplace injuries
“Preventable fatalities” are fatalities caused by conditions or actions that could have been avoided through the actions of people. To prevent workplace fatalities, it's critical to recognize hazards and address employee actions that cause or condone unsafe conditions or actions.
The National Safety Council ranked 15 industries that sustained the highest rates of preventable fatal injuries from 2019 to 2020. These fatalities were preventable.
The industries listed include:
- Transportation and warehousing
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting
- Professional and business services
- Leisure and hospitality
- Wholesale trade
- Other services (excluding public administration)
- Retail trade
- Educational and health services
- Financial activities
Know the common causes of workplace injuries
Nine out of 10 workplace injuries are caused by people. People have more control over their work environment and safety than they may realize.
Below are 10 common causes of workplace injuries:
- Stress — Problems at work, family troubles or other personal issues can hinder a person's concentration.
- The No. 1 cause of work-related stress is interpersonal relationships (with a coworker or supervisor).
- The No. 1 cause of family-related stress is money (finances).
- Fatigue — Being tired or unprepared for work, often resulting from:
- Insomnia (perhaps from stress)
- Lack of downtime
- Medications that cause drowsiness
- Hot, humid or cold work environments without adequate breaks or hydration
- Poor health — Lack of exercise, poor diet or exposure to illness
- Poor performance due to a physical condition or diet can be changed.
- Coming to work ill exposes others to illness and reduces the person’s ability to perform tasks properly, like taking shortcuts to finish a task.
- Exceeding limitations — Going beyond what a person’s body can do, such as:
- Improper lifting or carrying too heavy of a load without assistance
- Performing more tasks than time allows or multitasking
- Attitude — A person’s work practices often reflect their attitude.
- Carelessness, apathy, lack of interest in a task, anger or recklessness
- Failing to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) or selecting an improper tool for the task
- Skipping procedural steps or taking shortcuts that lead to unsafe conditions
- Lack of training or supervision — Inadequate training or supervision can lead to:
- Improper perceptions about safety
- Poor preparation for assigned tasks
- Improper use of PPE, lack of PPE or unapproved shortcuts
- Poor judgment — Poor judgment is often associated with a lack of or improper training.
- Peers encourage or perform tasks improperly.
- Lack of experience in a task or improper use of a tool leads to poor decision-making.
- Complacency — Becoming overly familiar with a task can lead to monotony or robotic performance.
- Failing to follow task completion checklists
- Missing a procedural step, thinking it was already performed
- Becoming distracted in the middle of a task and disrupting the sequence of procedures
- Poor housekeeping
- Poor or inadequate housekeeping accounts for 70% of work-related injuries.
- Poor housekeeping can expose the entire team to a hazard.
- Supervisors may inadvertently condone poor housekeeping by ignoring it.
Preventing workplace injuries
The above is not an exhaustive list, but it can help you become more aware of how workplace hazards come about. Start by recognizing and addressing employee performance based on your observations. Supporting, encouraging and holding your team accountable can go a long way toward preventing hazards.
Finally, recognizing employees who perform tasks correctly and report hazards will encourage your team to perform well. It also demonstrates your concern for their safety, health and well-being. Positive reinforcement instills safety as a value, which will help change your team’s thinking and choices about how they perform their tasks.
Here are some specific actions you can take to prevent workplace injuries:
- Review the common causes of workplace injuries.
- Communicate the importance of being physically and mentally prepared for work. Encourage employees to report anything that may inhibit or reduce their focus (taking over-the-counter medications for allergies, a sick child at home, difficulty sleeping, etc.).
- Train employees on how certain medications affect reaction times and alertness.
- Establish a shift routine that allows you to observe and interact with your employees.
- Recognize team members who complete additional task training and demonstrate safe practices (including good housekeeping).
- Develop a team activity that requires everyone’s participation, such as:
- Cleaning up a work area, spill or trash
- Observing proper use of PPE and task procedures
- Walking through an active work area to identify and correct hazards
- Identify distractions during shift observations, like interruptions during tasks, employee interactions, loud noises and poor illumination of work areas. Address these hazards immediately.
- Ask your team to identify the types of distractions they encounter at work and suggest how to mitigate them.
- Hold your team accountable. Establish clear expectations about how to properly perform tasks and hold employees accountable as a condition of employment.
- Remember that most workplace injuries are preventable.
- Educate employees about how distractions and readiness to work influence injuries.
- Encourage and support employees by recognizing safe work practices.
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