A Guide to the Most Common Workplace Injuries and Accidents
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2021/22, in Great Britain, 1.8 million people were suffering from a work-related illness while continuing to work. The costs of these workplace injuries and accidents equate to approximately £4.9 billion each year. As figures worldwide continue to grow, organisations must understand the intricacies around workplace injuries and accidents and be aware of those that are most prevalent. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting your career, having a strong grasp of these everyday workplace hazards and challenges is key to fostering a good culture around workplace safety. From exposure to high temperatures to a split-second loss of balance or falling asleep at the wheel, this guide navigates through the extensive world of workplace injuries and accidents, and shows how to steer towards a secure and thriving environment for all employees.
A workplace injury refers to any physical harm, damage or illness that occurs to an employee while they are performing their workplace responsibilities or as a result of their work environment. These injuries can range from minor incidents like cuts or bruises to more severe accidents such as fractures, sprains, strains, burns or even life-threatening situations.
According to RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations), an accident is “a separate, identifiable, unintended incident, which causes physical injury. This specifically includes acts of non-consensual violence to people at work.
“Injuries themselves, [such as] ‘feeling a sharp twinge’, are not accidents. There must be an identifiable external event that causes the injury, [such as] a falling object striking someone. Cumulative exposures to hazards, which eventually cause injury (e.g. repetitive lifting), are not classed as ‘accidents’ under RIDDOR.”
Whether an incident has happened in connection with or at work, it is classed as a workplace injury or accident.
The current statistics on workplace injuries offer a sobering glimpse into the realities faced by employees across various sectors. The numbers aren’t just data points; each figure represents personal stories of pain, resilience and the pressing need for enhanced safety measures. In 2021/22, approximately 36.8 million working days were lost in the UK due to work-related injury or illness. More alarmingly,123 workers died due to fatal injuries they sustained at work, an increase from 2019/20. It’s hardly surprising that, when employees were surveyed, their health and safety was determined to be of primary importance and key to achieving optimal productivity and efficiency within an organisation.
Such statistics reveal that workplace injuries continue to be a significant concern, despite advancements in safety protocols. From strains caused by repetitive motions to more severe incidents such as falls, heat-related incidents and equipment-related accidents, the range of injuries highlights the diverse risks present in different environments. Disturbingly, these statistics only further highlight the ripple effects of workplace injuries. Injuries sustained do not only encompass the physical pain but also the emotional and financial strain that must be considered on both the individual and their family.
It is evident that fostering a culture of rigorous safety training and ongoing risk assessment is paramount to addressing these issues head-on and protecting the organisation and its most valuable assets, the employees.
In the UK, a variety of strains and sprains take centre stage as the most frequent workplace injuries. These injuries often stem from repetitive motions or improper lifting techniques, painting a poignant picture of the toll workplace routines can take on the employee’s musculoskeletal system. Across the Atlantic in the US, the spotlight shifts to slips, trips and falls, which are the most common culprits behind workplace accidents. Often triggered by factors such as wet floors, cluttered walkways or inadequate signage, it stands as a strong reminder of the delicate balance between human mobility and the physical environment. In Australia, cuts, lacerations and punctures are more prominent, often striking a chord in industries where sharp tools and machinery are integral to the work at hand.
However, across these regions, and many more, heat-related injuries are becoming more prevalent. Research suggests that, by 2030, 2.2 per cent of total working hours around the world will be lost due to high temperatures, equating to a productivity loss equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs. While this is a conservative estimate, there is no doubt that we will continue to see the number of heat-related injuries and accidents rise if more action is not taken as temperatures increase year-on-year around the world.
Collectively, these injuries not only highlight the need for proficient training and stringent safety procedures but the importance of fostering a vigilant safety culture that employees and employers are confidently a part of.
Upon closer examination of the causes that lead to workplace injuries, fatigue appears to be a subtle but significant factor. In the UK, strains and sprains often happen due to improper lifting techniques, emphasising the need for ergonomic awareness and training. However, behind the movements, fatigue is a common contributing factor, minimising the energy required to execute tasks effectively and with the right care. The pace of work can also challenge an employee’s ability to maintain focus and be alert, signalling the need to address and manage fatigue efficiently through adequate breaks and optimal work schedules, and acknowledging the significance of rest as a preventive measure against these common injuries.
Similarly, diminished awareness and coordination as a result of fatigue is a significant but underrepresented trigger for the most common injuries of slips, trips and falls in the US. While it is important to ensure workplace surfaces and areas are in line with safety regulations and protocols, employees must be mentally equipped to navigate their workplace responsibilities to minimise the risk of injuries.
Fatigue significantly impairs a person’s ability to safely operate and perform tasks in the workplace. It can lead to reduced alertness, slower reaction times, poor decision-making and an increased risk of accidents. As such, it is crucial to address fatigue-related risks in the workplace when considering the complete approach to workplace health and safety.
The toll of workplace injuries extends beyond the physical implications of the employee who is directly involved, impacting job satisfaction and mental health. While an employee tries to manage recovery, the incident also has implications on the wider business, contributing to diminished productivity, characterised by increased rates of absenteeism, reduced efficiency and increased medical and legal costs of injuries.
The average cost of a medically consulted injury is £35,000 while the average cost for a heat-related injury or illness is estimated to be £62,000. Allocating resources (e.g. budget, time, people, training) to protect the well-being of employees is not only important to avoid losses linked to incidents or legal compliance, but these effective practices improve workplace culture, motivation and productivity, helping organisations retain and attract quality candidates and reduce absenteeism. This, in turn, safeguards the future of the organisation and its productivity.
The commitment to ensuring workplace safety stands is an unequivocal obligation for employers, serving as a cornerstone foundation of a secure and productive work environment. This duty is enshrined in comprehensive legislative frameworks that emphasise the paramount importance of safeguarding the well-being of employees.
In the UK, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is legislation that places a legal obligation on employers to provide a safe working environment for all employees, visitors and even the public who might be affected by their operations. Employers are mandated to identify potential risks, assess them and take appropriate measures to eliminate or minimise these risks. This may encompass implementing proper training, providing suitable personal protective equipment (PPE), maintaining other equipment and facilities, and regularly reviewing and updating safety policies. The Act also underscores the need for a collaborative approach, encouraging open communication between employers and employees to collectively ensure a culture of safety.
In the UK, and most countries around the world, the shared theme is the resounding call for employers to act as custodians of their workforce’s well-being. This entails not only meeting legal obligations but also embracing a moral responsibility to create an atmosphere where employees can flourish without compromising their safety. By upholding these obligations, employers play a vital role in the effectiveness of workplace safety protocols, cultivating an environment where employees can thrive and businesses can prosper.
The legal framework recognises and safeguards an employee’s rights to seek compensation for workplace injuries through distinct channels in the UK.
Personal injury claims are a common way to seek compensation. Employees who sustain injuries due to their employer’s negligence can potentially file a personal injury claim, seeking compensation for their pain, suffering, loss of income and other related damages. The process typically involves demonstrating that the employer breached their duty of care, leading to the injury. The Compensation Act of 2006 emphasises the importance of striking a balance between fairness for injured employees and protection for employers, addressing the significance of upholding safety obligations.
Regulations address the critical matter of financial support for employees unable to work due to workplace injuries or accidents.
In the UK, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is a cornerstone of this support system. Eligible employees are entitled to receive SSP, a government-mandated payment, when they are unable to work due to illness or injury. Subject to certain criteria, employers are obligated to provide SSP for up to 28 weeks, ensuring employees have a financial safety net during their recovery period. Additionally, employers may offer contractual sick pay schemes, supplementing SSP to provide more comprehensive coverage and further underscore their commitment to employee well-being.
Robust training programmes equip employees with the knowledge and skills to avoid potential hazards. Hazard assessments carried out regularly allow employers to identify and address risks before they can turn into accidents, fostering an environment where prevention is the best solution.
Strategic engineering and ergonomic design create effective safety measures to mitigate risks affecting machinery and work environments. PPE takes centre stage, providing employees with a defensive barrier against potential harm. A culture of awareness and accountability filters throughout an organisation when employees and employers collaboratively work together with diligence, reporting near misses and hazards and collectively refining safety protocols.
In the modern landscape, technology plays a pivotal role in curbing workplace injuries and risks, offering an effective blend of innovation and safety solutions. Bodytrak® is a strong example of wearable technology that leverages multiple safety features to monitor physiological responses to workplace stressors and challenging environments. By providing precise, real-time data, Bodytrak empowers both employees and organisations to identify potential hazards swiftly and enables early intervention to prevent accidents before they happen.
The Bodytrak solution translates real-time data into actionable information, helping individuals and organisations gauge vulnerability to heat stress, fatigue levels and excessive exposure to noise to prioritise and manage interventions, such as breaks. This individualised data-driven approach contributes to more effective output, allowing employees to maintain their well-being while performing at their best. For organisations, Bodytrak’s insights provide the opportunity for refining processes, optimising schedules and adapting work environments to reduce risks and enhance overall safety.
With a global resonance, Bodytrak extends its impact across diverse industries and geographies. From construction sites that demand heightened alertness to remote settings with their unique challenges, Bodytrak provides a versatile solution that fosters a safer work environment. As technology harmonises with the pursuit of employee welfare, the stage is set for a progressive transformation in workplace safety, where innovation and risk mitigation converge.
We’ve highlighted many of the common workplace risks that employees encounter around the world. From examining prevalent injuries in various parts of the world to delving into employer obligations and avenues for compensation, this paints a vivid picture of the landscape that shapes workplace safety.
The role of employers and organisations in fostering a safe and secure environment for their workforce is paramount. Regulations in different regions lay the foundation for safeguarding employees, obligating employers to take proactive measures and implement preventive strategies. The evolution of wearable technology allows smart solutions, like Bodytrak, to seamlessly integrate into workplace safety, offering real-time data and empowering employees and organisations alike to make informed decisions that minimise risks.
Ultimately, the overarching message is the same: workplace safety is a collaborative effort between organisations, employees and innovative technology. By having a clear understanding of prevention, harnessing the power of data-driven insights and fostering a culture of vigilance, we can create a workplace where each individual’s well-being is protected and productivity flourishes.