Curing Workplace Injury and Illness

Prevention programs yield safer workplaces with little hassle for you or your employees.

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No one plans to get injured on the job. Likewise, employers never want conditions to be unsafe for their workers. Still, tight deadlines, difficult circumstances and unpredictable work site conditions can all lead to situations that put workers at risk.

Injury and illness prevention programs are aimed at finding and fixing workplace hazards before workers are hurt. OSHA estimates that employers can expect up to six times a return on their investment for every dollar spent on injury and illness prevention. In a white paper detailing how to create a prevention program, how such programs work, and how they affect businesses and the workforce, OSHA provides a good overview on the real costs of work-related injuries and the steps you can take to prevent them.


Small businesses

For contractors with only a few employees, creating an injury prevention program may seem unnecessary, but the time and money that can be saved through injury prevention makes the effort worthwhile. After all, a two-person operation will suffer much more from a lost-time injury than a larger operation where a bigger pool of workers can absorb the workload.

There is strong evidence that injury and illness prevention programs can and do work for small businesses. For example, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation analyzed the policies of 16 employers over a 12-year period from 1999 through 2010. The study compared the employers’ experience before and after entering into the OSHA Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP), which recognizes small employers that operate exemplary injury and illness prevention programs.

“The preliminary results of the study show that the average number of claims for these employers decreased by 52 percent, the average claim cost decreased by 80 percent and the average lost time per claim decreased by 87 percent,” according to the paper.


Low-cost approach

The OSHA paper acknowledges that for many small businesses, establishing an injury and illness prevention program can be daunting:  “Any program based on formal structures can be difficult to establish in a small organization because of tight budgets.

“Yet simple, low-cost approaches have been shown to be effective in small businesses. Injury and illness prevention programs lend themselves to such low-cost approaches because they are highly flexible – the core elements can be implemented at a basic level suitable for the smallest business, as well as at a more advanced, structured level that may be needed in a larger, more complex organization.”

OSHA estimates that employers who do not yet have safety and health programs can reduce injuries by 15 to 35 percent by implementing injury and illness prevention programs.

“At the 15 percent program effectiveness level, this saves $9 billion per year in workers’ compensation costs; at the 35 percent effectiveness level the savings are $23 billion per year,” the paper states.

The paper notes two industry consensus standards for injury and illness prevention programs. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) have published a voluntary consensus standard, ANSI/AIHA Z10 – 2005 Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems. The Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) Project Group has produced a similar document, OHSAS 18001 – 2007 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems.

“When it comes to injury and illness prevention programs, every business is different, and one size certainly does not fit all,” OSHA states. “Employers who implement injury and illness prevention programs scale and adapt these elements to meet the needs of their organizations, depending on size, industry sector or complexity of operations.”

Ultimately, safety needs to be part of the culture, not just an exercise in compliance, and OSHA cites several sources of research showing that prevention programs are effective in transforming workplace culture. That in turn leads to a host of benefits.

The paper notes that, “Based on the positive experience of employers with existing programs, OSHA believes that injury and illness prevention programs provide the foundation for breakthrough changes in the way employers identify and control hazards, leading to significantly improved workplace health and safety environments.”

The complete white paper can be viewed and downloaded from the OSHA website at


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