The Top 5 Workers’ Comp Injuries and How to Prevent Them

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An injured construction worker sits on the warehouse floor holding his ankle.

The Top 5 Workers’ Comp Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Safety is a crucially important aspect of the workplace. The opportunity to attain and sustain it can be greatly enhanced through employee and employer cooperation. Unfortunately, illness and injury are often unavoidable even with the best safety strategies and workplace culture in place.

In addition to disrupting the lives of injured workers, workplace injuries take a significant financial toll on the economy. The National Safety Council estimated the economic impact of preventable workplace injuries in 2019 was $171 billion. That figure included estimates for the costs associated with losses in productivity and wages, administrative expenses, medical expenses, damage to equipment such as vehicles and employers’ uninsured costs.

Workers’ compensation has long been a key element of workplace safety. In most cases, workers’ comp covers accidental or careless damage to an employee’s health as long as there is no substance abuse or purposeful intent. Workers’ compensation is insurance that helps the injured employee and takes the burden off the employer.

It’s important for students who pursue online bachelor of science in occupational safety programs to become familiar with the most common workers’ comp injuries and how to prevent them.

Workers’ Compensation Statistics

To gain a perspective of workplace injuries, it’s helpful to explore some high-level workers’ compensation statistics. Although workplace accidents have decreased over time as safety methods have improved, they are still a prevalent issue.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

  • In 2009, private industry reported 3.3 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses, or about 3.6 cases for every 100 full-time workers.
  • In 2019, private industry reported 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses, or about 2.8 cases for every 100 full-time workers.

According to the BLS, in 2019 illness and injury resulted in private industry workers missing a median of 8 days. Industries with the highest numbers of recordable cases of illness and injury in 2019 included the following:

  • Health care and social assistance
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail trade
  • Accommodation and food services
  • Transportation and warehousing
  • Construction

To minimize workplace injury and illness, occupational safety professionals try to understand what the most prominent instances are and the reasons they occur.

Most Frequent Causes of Injury

The causes of workplace injuries are important to know, to help occupational safety professionals create new strategies and protective methods. Without knowing their causes, injuries could be more challenging to minimize.

According to the National Safety Council, in 2019 the top causes of workplace injuries included:

  • A bodily reaction to overexertion (such as when lifting objects or performing repetitive motions), which caused 31.0% of workplace injuries
  • Falls, slips and trips, which caused 27.5% of workplace injuries
  • Contact with objects or equipment, which caused 25.8% of workplace injuries
  • Transportation incidents, which caused 5.6% of workplace injuries
  • Violence and other injuries caused by a person or an animal, which caused 5.0% of workplace injuries
  • Being exposed to harmful environments or substances, which caused 4.2% of workplace injuries

The 5 Most Common Workers’ Compensation Injuries

When analyzing actual injuries for which employees filed workers’ compensation claims, it’s important to remember that employers purchase workers’ compensation insurance from a wide range of insurance companies. When a claim is successful, those companies then pay workers’ compensation benefits to the injured employees.

In addition, each state has its own workers’ compensation program for purposes such as regulating workers’ compensation insurance, resolving disputes and promoting safety in the workplace. Therefore, information on workers’ compensation injuries is spread across several organizations.

A study published in 2020 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health analyzed a large insurance program over multiple years across all 50 states. It identified these top five individual workers’ comp injuries:

  • Strains (30.06% of workers’ compensation claims)
  • Contusions (20.83% of claims)
  • Lacerations (11.79% of claims)
  • Sprains (8.85% of claims)
  • Punctures (5.50% of claims)

Each of these injuries is discussed in more detail below.

1. Strains

According to the U.S. Laboratory of Medicine, strains occur when a tendon or muscle is torn or stretched. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes this type of injury can happen, for example, when a worker performs repetitive tasks (e.g., lifts, pushes or pulls items that are heavy; works in a manner that results in awkward posture or reaches overhead).

2. Contusions

Health insurer Cigna describes contusions as the bruising that can occur after a bump to the body or after suffering a fall. Most bruises are not a significant cause for concern, but severe pain, swelling or bruising that starts within 30 minutes of suffering an injury may be an indication of a serious issue.

3. Lacerations

According to the National Safety Council’s Safety+Health magazine, suffering a laceration or cut at work can happen when a worker uses an inappropriate tool or a tool that has been kept in poor condition. Workers also can receive lacerations from machines with missing parts or improperly adjusted guards. Clutter and poor lighting also can increase the risk of lacerations.

4. Sprains

According to the U.S. Laboratory of Medicine, sprains occur when a ligament is torn or stretched. As with strains, OSHA reports the sprains can result from tasks such as performing repetitive tasks; lifting, pushing or pulling heavy items; having awkward posture or reaching overhead.

5. Punctures

According to safety resource center Safe at Work California (created by nonprofit workers’ compensation insurer State Compensation Insurance Fund of California), workers can suffer from puncture wounds when working with tools such as knives or scissors or items such as nails, glass or splintered surfaces. Working with tools that have dull blades and improperly handling metal shards or broken glass are risks that can lead to puncture wounds.

How to Minimize Workers’ Compensation Claims

Employers and employees should work together to minimize workers’ comp injuries and, therefore, workers’ comp claims. Fortunately, several safety and prevention strategies can help.

Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Rotate Workers

Wearing personal protective equipment is an important safety strategy for those working in hazardous areas or with hazardous materials. This can be enhanced by frequently rotating workers so they spend less time in hazardous situations. The longer a worker is in a dangerous environment, the higher the risk of injury.

Create Buffers or Eliminate Hazards

Erecting a buffer between hazards and employees can also minimize health risks. If at all possible, removing the hazard altogether is the optimum way to ensure safety. If the hazard is an element such as a gas or liquid, providing proper ventilation and disposal methods can lead to a reduction in injury and illness.

Provide Training and Create Safety Committees

Most importantly, the best prevention strategy is to frequently train employees and employers. Creating a learning environment focused on safety promotes a healthy and safe workplace. In addition, it can be helpful to create a safety committee or group comprised of employees, employers and occupational safety specialists that can analyze potential risks and find solutions before there’s a problem.

Preventing Injury as a Career

The most ideal strategy regarding workers’ comp injuries is to prevent them before they occur. Occupational safety professionals, such as ergonomists, hygienists and others, work diligently to improve the workplace so employees minimize their chance of being victims of an accident. They implement new strategies to combat existing and new threats that appear daily. Without them, our country’s workers’ comp support system may become overloaded and be less accessible in the future.

Individuals who want to learn to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions and risks would do well to explore the Eastern Kentucky University online Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety program.

Students in this program have the opportunity to build their safety expertise through instruction from industry-experienced educators and fire and safety professionals who are committed to teaching and preparing students for success.

Start on your path to a career in safety today!


Recommended Readings:

4 Occupational Diseases and Prevention Tips

Sleep Deficiency and Fatigue Causing More Workplace Injuries

Workers Compensation and the Most Dangerous Industries in the U.S.


California Department of Industrial Relations, Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Workers’ Compensation for Employees

Cigna, Bruises and Blood Spots Under the Skin

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Analyzing Workers’ Compensation Claims and Payments Made Using Data from a Large Insurance Provider”

National Safety Council, Top Work-Related Injury Causes

National Safety Council, Work Injury Costs

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Ergonomics

Safety+Health, “Preventing Cuts and Lacerations”

State Compensation Insurance Fund of California, Safe at Work California, Punctures and Cuts

Texas Department of Insurance, Injured Employee Resources

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employer-reported Workplace Injuries and Illnesses – 2019

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Workplace Injuries and Illnesses – 2009

U.S. Laboratory of Medicine, Sprains and Strains