Knowing the hazards your workers face and understanding the nature of the injuries that occur in your workplace is critical to keeping your workers safe and can influence everything from personal protective equipment choices to machinery and emergency training.
The classification systems used by government agencies are a great place to start. Canada and the U.S. have slightly different classifications for describing workplace injuries, but both can be very useful for employers working to reduce workplace injuries. The U.S. Centre for Disease Control (CDC) focuses on four major categories to classify workplace injury statistics: the nature of the injury, part of the body affected, source and secondary source of the injury and the event or exposure that precipitated the injury. The Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) adds an additional four classifications: industry, occupation, gender and age.
Despite the differences, both systems provide an easy method to classify and assess safety risks in your workplace. Separately, these categories provide insight, but together they provide you with a full and accurate picture of the types of injury your workers may be exposed to. This, in turn, allows you to create an injury prevention program that will have real results for your workers.
Nature of Injury
Nature of injury defines the type of injury or principal characteristics of an injury or disease. Examples of these include sprains, breaks, wounds or burns. Being aware of the statistics related to the nature of workplace injury and knowing how your company stacks up can help you identify a potential problem. Better yet, it'll help you prevent problems and injuries in the future by showing you where you need to allocate additional training or create additional safety awareness programming or procedures. (Learn more in Pushing, Pulling, and Lifting: Ergonomic Best Practices To Follow To Avoid Injury). Finally, knowing what injuries your workers are most likely to face can help you plan for quick responses to injury.
Part of the Body
The injured or diseased part of the body directly affected by an injury or disease is tagged collectively as part of the body by both the CDC and the AWCBC. The CDC classifies these as:
There are other classifications that account for multiple body parts or injuries which do not fall under any other classification. These classifications are important to you because they provide some insight into exactly where your workers are most exposed. This can play into how your company establishes safety protocols around machinery, personal protective equipment requirements and can even help you refine and target training and education efforts around safety.
The source of an injury classification focuses both on what caused the injury and what caused the worker to come into contact with the source of the injury. It includes the object, substance, and exposure or bodily motion that directly inflicted the injury or disease. In the case of a worker falling from a ladder onto a concrete floor, for example, the source of the injury would include both the floor and the ladder the worker fell from. The BLS also includes coding for secondary sources if, for example, ice or wind or another factor contributed to the fall. These classifications and the data they provide for you can be useful in building and logistical planning.
This is an event or exposure that directly resulted in the injury/disease and the BLS defines seven categories of event that are ranked in order of importance:
- Violence and other injuries to persons or animals
- Transportation incidents
- Fires and explosions
- Falls, slips and trips
- Exposure to harmful or toxic substances or environments
- Contact with objects and equipment
- Overexertion and bodily reaction
Understanding the event that caused an injury is critical to preventing this kind of injury from happening again. The order of precedence of events is geared towards establishing a clear root cause of the initial event and ensuring those root causes, rather than the secondary event causes, are addressed. In very simple terms, if a forklift driver runs into and punctures a collection of toxic chemicals, the initial event is not exposure, the initial event was a transportation incident and that is where your resources should be focused.
Industry is an AWCBC category that defines a group of enterprises, such as companies or establishments, that are engaged in the same or a similar kind of economic activity. Boards and Commissions classify businesses according to their industrial activity for administrative purposes, but these classifications also provide a useful general starting point for you in understanding the types of safety issues that are typically a concern for your industry and therefore your company.
The AWCBC defines occupation as the principal activity a person is engaged in at his or her place of work. While an obvious area for injury prevention focuses on safety-sensitive positions, almost any occupation has specific risks associated with it. For example, general labourers and freight, stock and material movers were most at risk for occupational injury in 2017, but police and sheriff’s patrol officers required more time off to recuperate from injuries. Combining occupation and event statistics can provide interesting insight into the nature of workplace injury in specific industries.
Nursing assistants, for example, are at an almost equal risk of same level falls as they are from overexertion in lifting or lowering and workplace violence. Police and sheriff’s patrol officers, on the other hand, are far more at risk of violence than they are of same level falls or even roadway incidents, although their risks for all three are higher than many occupations.
Industry and occupation can also impact return to work for injured workers and are two of the most influential factors when it comes to workplace interventions and accommodations for injured workers who are returning to work.
Gender plays a less significant role in determining risks for workplace injuries. Men tend to be more at risk for physical injury, which can also often be attributed to occupation, however, women are more susceptible to mental disorder or mental health related injury which researchers have been unable to link to specific occupations.
Government agencies describe age by groups of 5-year periods starting at age 15-19 up to 65 and over. Younger workers are more prone to eye and hand injuries while older workers are more likely to report back related injuries. There is also evidence that younger workers experience more traumatic injuries such as burns and cuts and are more likely to be struck by a falling object or caught in equipment, all events which require a quick reaction time to avoid. Older workers also have severe accidents, although far less often than their younger counterparts, but they also take longer to recover, resulting in more lost work days. The accumulated effects of age-related degeneration of vision, hearing and even balance should be considered in your safety planning, but these are also balanced out by strategic thinking, holistic perception and the ability to deliberate that are also common in older workers.
Keeping A Safe Workplace
Government provided statistics are useful for safety planning and prevention, but you can develop an even more accurate snapshot of safety at your workplace by gathering your own statistics using these classifications. This snapshot enables you to identify gaps and target your resources effectively. The Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) offers access to statistics and to an online calculator that will allow you to calculate your own incident rates.