United States: Tragedies On And Off The Silver Screen: How To Avoid Costly Workplace Injuries

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is the title of a science fiction horror film that was recently released worldwide. The horror that occurred behind the scenes in the making of the movie rivaled the fictional onscreen terror. First, the leading actress' stuntwoman, Olivia Jackson, sustained life-threatening injuries, including cerebral trauma, a crushed face, a severed neck artery, a paralyzed arm that had to be amputated, spinal cord damage, and multiple broken bones, all from a motorcycle collision with a camera crane. Then, later in filming, another crew member, Richard Cornelius, was killed when one of the movie's props, an Army Hummer, crushed him. In addition to such stunt and crew film personnel, actors themselves often suffer serious workplace injuries while filming movies. For example, while filming "Syriana," A-list actor George Clooney broke his spine during a stunt scene gone awry. His injury was so serious that he was bedridden for a month with severe migraines, during which time he also suffered from depression.

Like the Hollywood employees just mentioned, everyday workers also suffer workplace injuries. These injuries can prove costly to their employers in the form of workers' compensation claims, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) penalties, and loss of productivity and morale. Private employers reported approximately 2.9 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses to OSHA in 2015. Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that approximately 4,500 employees suffer workplace injuries each year that result in their deaths. Such recorded workplace injuries and illnesses range in severity and include wounds, amputations, back injuries, as well as fatal accidents from crushing and falling. Almost one-half of the recorded workplace injuries were serious enough to result in direct or indirect financial loss to the employer, including the injured employee missing a day or more from work, requiring a transfer to a different position, or needing to limit some duties of his or her position due to a doctor-imposed work restriction. In addition, these are just the reported injuries. It's safe to say that many thousands more injuries are either not reported by the employee and/or the employer.

Let's take a quick look at the most common workplace injuries reported by employers and some tips for how to limit exposure to such accidents and injuries:

Overexertion

This tends to be the most common–and costly–type of injury for employers, resulting in a high number of workers' compensation claims. How can employers limit injuries related to physical exertion?

  • Be sure employees take a sufficient number of breaks, especially in jobs that require strenuous physical movement. Many workplace injuries occur when a worker is tired.
  • Schedule the most difficult and labor-intensive tasks for employees at the beginning of their shifts, when they are fresh and able to concentrate more with respect to proper technique and safety.
  • Also, be sure that the workers have sufficient training to do their job tasks using proper methods and that supervisory personnel provide adequate oversight.

Slipping/falling

Another common cause of workplace injuries is slipping/falling. Such accidents are often preventable. Injuries sustained by employees who slip or fall in the workplace can be minor, such as bruises, or major, such as death due to a head injury. Here's how employers can limit injuries related to slipping/falling:

  • Clean up spills as soon as they occur. Also, employers should ensure that the washing and cleaning of floors and stairs is limited to low-occupancy times of the day and that the areas being cleaned are marked sufficiently to put the employees on alert.
  • Be sure that all guardrails are properly maintained and that no debris or slippery trash (think: banana peels) causes hazardous conditions.
  • Finally, you can limit accidents with respect to falling from heights (such as ladders, rooftops, and stairs) by ensuring that employees always use safety harnesses and are trained about specific processes related to working from heights.

Vehicle accidents

Some employees must drive motorized vehicles for a living (cars, buses, trucks, tractors, etc.). Driving a vehicle as part of one's job creates inherent safety risks and exposes both employers and employees to costly accidents and injuries. OSHA reports that workplace-driving accidents cost employers an average of $60 billion per year. How can employers limit injuries related to vehicle accidents?

  • Ensure that all drivers have proper training and licensing.
  • Conduct inspections of company-owned vehicles at regular intervals and make necessary repairs immediately afterwards.
  • Also, mandate that the employees who operate such vehicles be drug- and alcohol-free. Obviously, when an employee operates a vehicle under the influence, it results in compromised coordination, judgment, and concentration.

Companies must take active steps to keep their workplaces safe for employees, customers, vendors, and, in some cases, the general public. You, as human resources professionals, should work with both managers and employees to implement safety programs and provide thorough and regular training. With such practices, your workplace is less likely to resemble a horror film.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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