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When it comes to workplace injuries, all too often, the methods of prevention are designed around citation-worthy offenses. Highly cited violations like those pertaining to fall protection, machine guarding, and lockout/tagout are easy to spot and failures are likely to cause immediate, significant, and reportable injuries.

However, chalking up most workplace injuries to the construction ‘fatal four’ and recalling forklift training videos from our retail days, is a limited view. Majority of workers’ compensation claims are not of this nature. For most employers and health plans, musculoskeletal disorders and injuries are the most common and costly. 

Only recently, are musculoskeletal injuries and disorders being recognized for their size and scale. And with the increased volume and cost of musculoskeletal disorders presents both a challenge, and an opportunity.

A Challenge across Industries: Musculoskeletal Disorders

Musculoskeletal pain disorders include a wide-range of acute and chronic injuries or inflammatory conditions that cause pain in the body’s joints; ligaments; muscles; nerves; tendons; and structures that support the limbs, neck, and back. 

Musculoskeletal Disorders Manifest in a Variety of Ways

The Cost of a Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorder

Whether it’s lower back pain, sciatica, neck pain, joint pain or related conditions, arthritic conditions, or one of the many other ongoing issues that present themselves, these can leave people facing anything ranging from a mild annoyance to a debilitating condition that results in days off work. 

With more than half of U.S. Adults suffering from a musculoskeletal pain disorder, one of the most common sources for these injuries is the workplace.

Cross-Industry Concerns

From blue collar to white collar, work-related musculoskeletal disorders don’t discriminate—exposure can come as a result of movement or non-movement, sapping the productivity of your workforce, cutting into your margins, and worst of all, leaving workers in a whole lot of pain. 

Accounting for nearly half a million injuries per year, MSDs represent one third of all workers’ compensation costs, resulting in direct costs of more than $20 billion—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Add in indirect costs, including wages paid to workers for absences not covered by workers’ compensation, overtime for non-injured employees to make up for lost hours, administrative costs for supervisors, training costs for replacements, and lost productivity related to rescheduling, learning curves, and reaccommodation, and the number more than doubles to $45-54 billion.

Addressing the Costs

When looking at all serious, nonfatal injuries, musculoskeletal injuries represent a considerable percentage of workers’ compensation dollars, with causes and related costs falling into three categories. As defined by the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, these consist of overexertion, other exertions, and repetitive motions involving micro-tasks. Combined, these represent 34.8 percent of all employer costs and $20.72 billion.

  • Overexertion is by far the costliest workplace injury. Including injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, or throwing objects, Liberty Mutual estimates these injuries account for 23.5 percent of costs to employers, $13.90 billion in total.
  • Other exertions or bodily reactions make up the rest of the common causes of MSD injuries, ranking fifth on the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index and making up another 7.9 percent of costs, roughly $4.69 billion.
  • Repetitive motions involving micro-tasks ranks eight on the list of employer costs. According to Liberty Mutual, these total 3.4 percent of all employer costs and set employers in the U.S. back approximately $2.05 billion.

But what are the most common injuries, what are the costs they present to employers, and what steps should you be taking to address these risks—before they become problems? 

After digging through the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we’re going to break down this information and discuss how much a worker’s strain, sprain, tear, soreness, and the like will set you back.

Back Injuries: The Most Common Musculoskeletal Disorder

Resulting in more than 118,000 injuries in 2019, musculoskeletal disorders affecting the back, including the spine and spinal cord are considered the most common MSD among workers. Why? Simple—they affect the office worker as much as the laborer. 

Driven heavily by lower back pain, this is experienced often by workers in construction occupations aged 45-64. Worse, low back pain can affect a person’s ability to perform work tasks. Between 6 and 10% of workers stopped working, changed jobs, or made a major change in work activities because of their low back pain.

Shoulder Injuries: Long-Term Injured Reserve

Not only an area of high risk—but an injury that will sideline a worker for a long time. Accounting for more than 50,000 musculoskeletal disorders among workers, these can take workers off their average task for months, with recovery often consisting of a worker being unable to reach above his or her head.

Leg and Knee: A Constant Slowdown

The next major musculoskeletal disorder affecting workers impacts the knee. Accounting for approximately 34,000 incidents in 2019, knee injuries not only slow workers down, they can result in a lot more pain—after all, many workers need to stand or walk for their jobs. 

In fact, musculoskeletal disorders affecting the knee see a median of 22 days off work in private industry, often resulting in significant indirect costs associated with downtime.

An Ounce of Prevention

Putting even a small amount into injury prevention and ergonomics can go a long way in reducing the risk for long-term injury in the workplace. As your source for all things related to musculoskeletal health in the workplace, we hope to keep you ahead of the curve.

The PeerWell solution combines accessibility, inclusivity, and user-friendliness to help employers and patients mitigate the costs, strain, and stress of a workplace injury. Our digital program provides a complete approach to musculoskeletal health, focused on injury prevention, pain reduction, conservative care, and surgery. 

Before, during, and after an injury, organizations and their people turn to PeerWell for our proven system able to lower average medical costs of a catastrophic injury by 38% while maintaining a 93% patient satisfaction. Get to know more about our digital health solution and how it makes life easier for patients, employers, insurers, and providers.

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