Instead of testing your patience, I’ll tell you the answer right from the start: How much responsibility should employers take for injured workers? As much as possible. Again, that’s as much as possible. But maybe you want to hear the rationale for that argument, so here goes:
When an employee gets injured, it is in their employer’s best interest to take all possible steps to ensure their full recovery. This is true even for injuries that occur off the job. That may sound radical, but here’s why I say it:
According to the National Safety Council, the total estimated cost of workplace injuries in 2017 was over $160 billion. Here’s what the NSC says about that:
“The total cost of work injuries in 2017 was $161.5 billion. This figure includes wage and productivity losses of $50.7 billion, medical expenses of $34.3 billion and administrative expenses of $52.0 billion.
This total also includes employers’ uninsured costs of $12.4 billion, including the value of time lost by workers other than those with disabling injuries who are directly or indirectly involved in injuries, and the cost of time required to investigate injuries, write up injury reports and so forth. The total also includes damage to motor vehicles in work-related injuries of $4.9 billion and fire losses of $7.3 billion.”
If that isn’t staggering enough for you, try this: also according to the NSC, American companies lose over 100 million — yes, 100,000,000 — work days per year as a result of injuries that either occur that year or years prior.
By the way, that “days lost” estimate does not include time lost by people with non-disabling injuries. In other words, if you were injured at work but didn’t stay out for a significant amount of time, the NSC didn’t even bother counting those days.
Interpreting and acting on the data
What this means is that while injury prevention and treatment as a whole should be a significant concern for employers, what they should be most concerned about is disabling injuries — especially since the average long-term disability absence is two-and-a-half years.
Thus businesses should do everything in their power to get employee injuries treated quickly and successfully — as well as maximize their efforts in the area of prevention. After all, the following set of statistics is not something anyone should be comfortable adding to:
- In 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 51 million Americans were classified as disabled, representing 18 percent of the population.
- Three out of 10 workers who enter the workforce will become disabled before they retire, according to the Social Security Administration.
- A disabling injury occurs every 1 second in the U.S., based on more data from the National Safety Council.
Again, the reason prevention is so key is because the cost of disability is so high — both physically and emotionally, and both to employee and employer. The more quickly and comprehensively an injury can be treated (and the cause of it determined and steps taken to prevent a similar accident in the future), the better. It sometimes means the difference between a short- and long-term injury, which can help reduce long-term disability.
For reference, the three most frequent causes of work-related injuries are overexertion and bodily reaction (including repetitive stress injuries); contact with objects and equipment; and slips, trips, and falls. These account for the vast majority of workplace injuries.
Some industries and employees are more at risk than others, as well. Industries with the highest risk of injury to employees are construction, agriculture, forestry, transportation, and warehousing.
If an employee does get injured
The first step is always, always, always to seek medical attention. Failing to prioritize immediate assessment and treatment could not only come at a great cost to the injured party, but also lead to legal trouble down the road.
As an employer, you’ll then, of course, want to file a report, engage in a dialogue with your worker’s compensation carrier as soon as possible, and turn your eye toward preventing future injuries by treating the incident as a learning experience.
While it can be easy to view supporting an injured employee as a burden, there’s another way to look at it that is far more beneficial to both you and your team. You can choose to view the whole thing as an obligation (or solely a cost to you), or you can see it as a series of opportunities.
It’s an opportunity to potentially save a person (or whole family) from financial hardship. It’s an opportunity to build loyalty and rapport not only with the injured employee, but all their team members who are watching closely to see how you treat that person. It’s an opportunity to save money in terms of days lost, if you respond well and in a timely fashion. And it’s an opportunity to embody the values of the type of organization for whom everyone truly wants to work: one that loves its people, takes care of those in need, and builds a strong, resilient, and uplifting culture for all.