The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a federal agency, considers an injury work-related if the injury is caused, contributed to, or significantly aggravated by an event or exposure in the work environment. Work-related injuries usually occur at the workplace (office, factory), but may also occur in another work-related location, such as on the road during a delivery, or on a telephone pole during a repair.
A work-related injury may be the result of a single event, such as a fall, or of constant exposure to a toxin or stressor. Work-related injuries must be reported to the employer within 30 days of an accidental injury or within 30 days of the date the employee learned that the illness or injury was job-related. Otherwise, the employee may not be able to successfully file for workers’ compensation.
Where Workers Are at Elevated Risk?
While workplace injuries can occur in any business or facility, they are more common in certain occupations. Workers are at greater risk of injury if they work in one of the following:
- Construction, especially roofing
- Electrical power-line installation
- Farming and Logging
- Health Care
- Police or fire departments
- Sports (athletes, coaches, referees)
Airline pilots, flight engineers and drivers of trucks, taxis or limousines, are also at elevated risk of being injured on the job.
Causes of Work-Related Injuries
Causes of injuries or health problems suffered at the workplace or during the course of the workday are varied. They may include:
- Airborne toxins
- Improperly maintained machinery
- Repetitive stress to a body part
- Excessive noise, light, odor or vibration
- Faulty safety equipment
- Improper facility maintenance (slippery floors, jutting objects)
- Overcrowded conditions
- Absence of instruction or cautionary rules
The underlying cause of work-related psychological injuries is often managerial tolerance of, or even participation in, an atmosphere of taunting, disrespect, or harassment.
Types of Work-Related Injuries
There are several types of work-related injuries. They may be categorized as immediate or ongoing.
Immediate injuries occur as isolated events and may include falling, cutting, scraping, burning, ingesting a poisonous substance, being hit by a person or object, or being involved in a vehicular accident. Workers may suffer one or more of the following as a result of an immediate injury:
- Cut or puncture wound
- Fracture or dislocation of a bone
- Sprain or strain of a ligament, tendon or muscle
- Injury requiring amputation
- Thermal, chemical or electrical burn
- Concussion or spinal cord injury
- Crush injury
- Disease due to unsanitary conditions
Such injuries require emergency care and may cause temporary or permanent disfigurement and/or disability.
Ongoing injuries include injuries that cause persistent stress to a body part or to the psyche.
- Exposure to an inhaled toxin, such as lead, asbestos, coal or smoke
- Repetitive stress to a body part
- Constant harassment or bullying by a supervisor or co-worker
- Frequent exposure to excessive noise, vibration or light
- Exposure to illness due to poor sanitary conditions
Ongoing problems in the workplace may result in disease conditions, such as black lung, lung cancer, or asbestosis from inhaling toxins, carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive stress to the wrist, psychological trauma from racial or sexual harassment, or loss of hearing or vision due to exposure to excessive noise or light.
Treatment of Work-Related Injuries
A wide range of treatments is available for work-related injuries, including urgent care, such as suturing or administration of oxygen and ongoing therapies that may include medication, physical, occupational, or respiratory therapy, or surgery. Psychotherapy or psychiatric intervention may also be necessary.
Prevention of Work-Related Injuries
Although not all work-related injuries can be avoided, the following steps can go a long way to minimizing accidents and exposure of workers to danger:
- Keep the work place clean and clear of debris
- Install safety and emergency devices
- Train employees properly and retrain them when necessary
- Avoid overcrowding of the workplace
- Check air quality of the workplace frequently
- Keep facility, equipment, and vehicles clean and well-maintained
- Check employee health regularly
- Use ergonomically designed furniture or equipment where possible
- Create and maintain an environment where harassment is not tolerated
Work-related injuries not only debilitate individual employees, they lower productivity and morale. It is, therefore, in the best interests of owners and managers to make sure that the risk of work-related injuries is kept to a minimum.