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When it comes to improving occupational safety and reducing the costs that workplace risks present, organizations often want to know how insurance carriers measure those risks, according to Don Tolbert, a speaker at the International Safety Equipment Association's fall meeting in Alexandria, Va.
Although the number of workplace injuries and illnesses has generally declined over the past decade, fatalities have increased. There were 4,821 fatal workplace injuries in the U.S. in 2014, according to the 2014 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS said this is the highest number of fatalities since 2008.
So what can businesses do to reduce the risk of serious injury or death in the workplace?
[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Determine Regulatory Requirements for Safety]
Businesses should take a layered approach to risk mitigation, said Tolbert, who is the technical director of risk control services for Liberty Mutual Group—a global insurer headquartered in Boston.
Some employers focus only on personal protective equipment, and while that's important, it should be considered the last measure, he said.
Identifying the Risks
The Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety produces an annual safety index that identifies the top 10 causes of disabling workplace injuries. Tolbert noted that the following causes have consistently been in the top five:
The cost of falls on the same level has increased in recent years and is likely to continue increasing in the future, Tolbert noted.
Falls to a lower level and incidents where workers were struck by objects or equipment are also costly. They represented a $10 billion cost in 2013—the year for which the most recent data were collected.
It's safe to assume the reported costs will be higher in the next index, Tolbert added.
As a best practice for mitigating the risk of serious injuries, Tolbert pointed to the "hierarchy of hazard control," which is a tiered approach to minimizing safety risks and works as follows:
Businesses should think of the hierarchy of hazard control as a layered approach rather than a menu of options, he suggested. "Many people may think that if they put guards up they don't have to do anything more, but it's more complex than that," he said.
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