The Iceberg Effect – The Hidden Costs of Workplace Injuries

January 21, 2015 | News

SpineThe continuing care sector is BC’s second-largest categories of healthcare employers – accounting for approximately $1.4 billion in payroll every year. It also retains the dubious distinction of being the most costly sector in healthcare when it comes to workplace injuries. The acute care sector recorded $30.3 million in workplace claims paid out in 2013. In comparison, the long term care sector recorded $23.3 million in claims paid out in 2013, despite having a workforce that was less than half the size of that in the acute care sector.

These figures provide only part of the picture, however. Claims costs as reported by WorkSafeBC do not take into account many of the costs borne by the organization and injured worker. A study done by Guzman et al. (2012) estimated the non-wage economic losses experienced by 146 workers in BC. In the study, 84% of the workers involved had a musculoskeletal injury (MSI). On average, the study estimated that workers with an MSI experienced an average non-wage economic losses of $3 131 per person over the study’s twelve week period. Similarly, studies looking into the indirect costs of workplace injuries estimate that for every $1 spent on direct claims costs, an additional $4 is spent on indirect costs.

From an organizational standpoint, preventing injuries is not only morally important: it makes good business sense. Consider the following real-life example of two long term care organizations:

Organization A Organization B
Size Large (100+ employees) Large (100+ employees)
Payroll $7.9 million $7.8 million
Assessment Rate $1.29 $2.90
Assessment Amount $102 000 $226 000

Inter-Facility Difference: $124 000

Overall, Facility A realizes a savings of approximately $124 000 annually through its WorkSafeBC premiums alone owing to its lower injury rate, compared to Facility B. This does not take into account cost-savings realized in other areas, such as staff overtime, incident and accident investigation costs, and administrative costs associated with claims case management.

The question remains, how does an organization like Facility B improve its safety record? Addressing workplace safety requires a system approach. Successful programs typically share several key features:

  1. Management support and commitment.
  2. Frontline staff buy-in.
  3. Control measures that include (in order of preference): engineered solutions, administrative solutions, and personal protective equipment.
  4. Systems in place to support the ongoing use of control measures (e.g. a maintenance program for safety equipment, regular reviews of administrative policies, etc.).
  5. Strategies in place to support and promote a culture of safety (e.g. peer coaches, regular safety training, recognition programs for safety champions, etc.).
  6. Communication strategies to identify unsafe practices, potential barriers, equipment issues, etc.
  7. Alternate procedures developed for cases whereby standard safe work recommendations cannot be followed.

In our next installment, we will discuss examples of safety programs and how the implementation of those programs impacted the participating organization’s safety record.