Do Americans Feel Immune to Workplace Injuries?

Aug. 6, 2003
Your employees make safety a priority in an effort to avoid workplace injuries, right? Wrong, says a new study, and not only is safety not on the tops of their minds, most workers don't think they'll experience a workplace injury.

The 2003 workplace study, released by Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance (MEM), Missouri's largest writer of workers compensation insurance, found that nearly 65 percent of working Americans don't think a workplace injury will happen to them. More than half, 53.4 percent, said the odds are slim that a work injury will make them permanently disabled. Nearly half said they think about themselves or a loved one getting injured on the job a few times a year or less.

The reality is very different, says MEM Loss Prevention Manager Steve Holmes. In 2001, 3.9 million people more than the populations of North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska combined experienced a disabling injury, according to the National Safety Council. This excludes injuries resulting from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Major contributors include overexertion, coming into contact with an object or piece of equipment and falls.

"Many employees adopt the 'It won't happen to me' attitude when it comes to workplace safety," Holmes says. "The reality is workplace injuries can, and do, happen. Employees need to understand they are not immune to their devastating effects and work with their employers to prevent them."

According to the MEM study, nearly three out of four employees admit they could be more safety conscious at work, and more than 95 percent say they should take a more proactive role in ensuring that injuries don't happen. However, the vast majority of respondents, 95.7 percent, say employers are responsible for creating a safe environment for employees.

These numbers are particularly troublesome, Holmes says, because they show that employees understand the need for workplace safety, but are not willing to take the responsibility to ensure a workplace injury doesn't happen to them or a co-worker.

"Employers are caught in a real catch-22," Holmes says. "Workplace injuries are disabling America's workforce, and yet employees are unwilling to take on the personal responsibility involved in preventing them."

Holmes says five main attitudes contribute to all on-the-job injuries and deaths. Employees must change these opinions if they want to be safe on the job.

  • "It won't happen to me." - Employees feel they are immune to workplace injuries.
  • "I've done this job before." - Long-time employees think experience is a substitute for safety.
  • "Safety training is not important." - Employees aren't interested in safety training.
  • "I don't have time." - Company demands often take precedence over safety.
  • "It's not my job." - Employees think their employers are responsible for safety.

On average, each disabling workplace injury costs $29,000 for employers, and the cost of each workplace death totals $1.02 million. Collectively, all workplace injuries in the U.S. in 2001 cost employers $132.1 billion according to the National Safety Council, an amount greater than the combined revenues of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies.

And the cost in human terms is even greater, notes Holmes. "The cost of workplace injuries can be staggering for employers, but they still don't compare to the physical and emotional consequences injured employees and their families suffer."

A link to the full study results can be found at www.mem-ins.com/newsroom/pr072803.htm.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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