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The Top 5 Causes of Disabling Injuries in the Workplace

By Jamie Young
Published: December 6, 2013 | Last updated: December 14, 2015 04:00:21
Key Takeaways

Disabling injuries account for more than 70 percent of all injuries that occur on the job. And the cost - to both employers and their employees - are staggering.

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According to statistical data gathered by Liberty Mutual, the top five causes of disabling inju­ries in the workplace (in 2010) are overexertion, falling on the same level, bodily reaction, falling to lower levels and being struck by an object. These accounted for 73 percent of the total cost of injuries that year, an estimated $37.2 billion.

Of course, these injuries are a heavy burden for workers too. They can compromise financial security and well-being. Let's take a look at what causes some of these injuries - and what workers and employers can do to reduce the risk.


Overexertion ranked first and accounted for 26.8 percent of the total disabling injuries in 2010, with $13.61 billion dollars being allocated to workers’ compensation. Overexertion often shows its effects in workers' lower back. In fact, lower back injuries are one of the consequences of performing strenuous activities such as excessive lifting and carrying of heavy objects, or working in awkward positions that involve pushing and pulling. Most overexertion injuries typically occur in the manufacturing and construction industries, but can happen to any worker at any time. (Read more about how overexertion occurs in The 5 Keys Ways to End Up With a Muskuloskeletal Disorder (MSD).)


How to Prevent Overexertion

Tips for Employers:

  • Provide employees with back braces or safety equipment if they are lifting or carrying heavy items
  • Provide employees with ergonomic work spaces to help minimize the occurrence of work injuries
  • Encourage employees to take frequent stretching breaks
  • Train employees in good working practices, such as proper lifting techniques

Tips for Employees:

  • Ask employers to provide braces or safety equipment
  • Reduce the amount of weight carried to minimize back strain
  • Practice good posture
  • Use ergonomic work spaces
  • Take frequent breaks to keep potential repetitive motion to a minimum
  • Voice concerns about overexertion/pain to your employer

Falls on the Same Level

Falls on the same level ranked as the second most common cause of disabling injuries and accounted for 16.9 percent of all such injuries in 2010. That adds up to $8.61 billion being allocated to workers’ compensation. Falls on the same level are a result of slips and trips. Common causes of slips are wet or oily surfaces, loose floor mats, spills and smooth flooring surfaces. Common causes of tripping are obstructed view, poor lighting, cluttered walkways, exposed cables and uneven walking surfaces.

How to Prevent Falls on the Same Level

Tips for Employers:

  • Train and educate employees on good housekeeping practices, such as keeping walkways unobstructed
  • Change or modify walking surfaces
  • Secure floor mats to the floor using adhesive strips
  • Provide employees with proper footwear
  • Ensure that the workplace is well lit

Tips for Employees:

  • Wear proper footwear
  • Clean all spills immediately
  • Keep all walkways clear of obstructions
  • Use installed light sources to provide sufficient light for your tasks

Bodily Reaction

Bodily reaction ranked third and accounted for 11.4 percent of the total disabling injuries in 2010, costing employers $5.78 billion in workers’ compensation. Bodily reactions are injuries that result from free bodily motion. These include bending, climbing, reaching, standing, sitting, and slipping or tripping without falling.

How to Prevent Bodily Reaction


Tips for Employers:

  • Redesign the work and the manual tasks to eliminate or minimize the risk of bodily reaction
  • Train and educate employees on safe working practices
  • Make the workplace as comfortable as possible by providing stools for employees who are required to stand for prolonged periods, or adjusting their tasks accordingly

Tips for Employees:

  • Take your time and pay attention to what you are going
  • Pay attention to posture
  • Listen to your body and try to change positions frequently

Falls to a Lower Level

Falls to lower a level ranked fourth and accounted for 10 percent of the total disabling injuries in 2010, with $5.12 billion being allocated to workers’ compensation. According to the National Institute for Safety and Health, falls to a lower level occurred more frequently in the following industries: health care, building cleaning and maintenance, transportation and material moving, and construction and extraction. Falls to a lower level are caused by unprotected edges, floor holes, wall openings and unsafely positioned ladders.

How to Prevent Falls to Lower Levels

Tips for Employers:

  • Provide employees with the appropriate safety equipment and all the necessary tools
  • Plan and select fall protection that is suitable to the work project
  • Train and educate workers to identify fall hazards and use the proper equipment
  • Implement a fall protection program
Tips for Employees:
  • Wear appropriate fall protection equipment and use the proper tools throughout the entire task
  • Ensure that all openings are either guarded or covered
  • Select the appropriate ladder for the task and ensure that it is properly secured

Being Struck by an Object

Being struck by an object ranked fifth among causes of disabling injury, and accounted for 8 percent of all disabling injuries in 2010, costing employers $4.10 billion in workers’ compensation.Struck-by hazards are common in the construction industry, but can happen to anyone in any work environment. Struck-by hazards include anything that can fall and strike a worker from above. Working or walking below elevated surfaces greatly increases an individual’s risk of being struck by an object.

How to Prevent Being Struck by an Object

Tips for Employers:

  • Implement a warning system
  • Implement a preventative maintenance program
  • Conduct workplace assessments regularly to identify hazards
  • Provide employees with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as hard hats
Tips for Employees:
  • Keep a safe distance from suspended loads
  • Store materials properly
  • Report all incidents
  • Wear appropriate PPE at all times when performing a task
  • Avoid working below elevated surfaces whenever possible

Key Points to Remember About Disabling Injuries

  • Disabling injuries inflict considerable financial burden in the form of workers’ compensation and medical costs.
  • To prevent disabling injuries in the workplace, certain safety steps must be taken.
  • If your job involves any of the activities mentioned above, you may be at risk.
  • When employees are exposed to safety risks at work, injuries can occur.
  • Employers can prevent disabling injuries and, consequently, save lives by implementing these three simple steps: plan, provide and train.


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Written by Jamie Young | COO

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I believe that everybody has the right to get home safely to their families. Anything I can do to help promote and achieve a safe working environment, I will do.

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