Definition and Overview

Occupational injuries are hazards at work that can lead to either fatal or non-fatal conditions. There are many possible causes for these types of injuries, which can range from overuse of the musculoskeletal muscles or joints to lack of employment training or orientation.

According to Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), more than 4,000 US workers died while a staggering 3.8 million in both the public and the private sector had non-fatal occupational injuries and illnesses in 2012. A year before, at least 2 million employees were brought to the emergency, and over 100,000 of them had to be hospitalized.

Occupational injuries have become a significant issue in terms of economics and work policies since they affect other facets of a country’s development aside from the worker’s health. Based on a 2011 report published in Millbank Quarterly, these kinds of injuries cost the government around $192 billion each year due to direct costs such as health care and indirect costs like the loss of wages and productivity. Further, in 2014, the rate of DART (days away from work, job transfer, or restriction) cases was at 1.7% (3 million people) in 2014.

Causes of Condition

Based on a study presented by the National Health Institutes (NHI) on occupational injuries participated by more than 2,000 workers, the most possible cause is accidents in the workplace. These may include:

  • A part of the jewelry or shirt is eaten up the machine, causing a portion of the body to go into the equipment, possibly severely injuring the worker.
  • A machine with volatile parts suddenly explodes.
  • The equipment doesn’t receive the necessary maintenance and repair, which increases the risk of injury to the user.
  • The employee makes a mistake of putting a body part like a hand right into the machine.
  • Long hair gets entangled into the equipment.
  • A heavy object is accidentally dropped, causing a serious blunt force trauma to the head.

Other studies show that occupational injuries can also be caused by:

Poor ergonomics – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines ergonomics as “fitting the job to a person” with the objective of increasing efficiency while reducing body injuries especially on the musculoskeletal system like the back and joints. However, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) were responsible for more than 30% of the reported occupational injuries in 2011, according to Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Poor ergonomics may refer to a workplace environment that promotes bad posture, prolonged sitting or standing, and repetitive movements (like clicking the mouse or typing on a keyboard, which can possibly strain the wrists).

Environment factors – The risk of injury can also be enhanced by the kind of environment the employee is working on. These factors can include access to oxygen, varied temperature levels, radiation, the structural integrity of the building, the presence of sharp objects, wet sections of the workplace, flammable materials used, the height of the workplace, and electricity, and poor hygiene.

Management policies – Employment policies can also have a profound impact on health injuries, and although they are not the causes, they can be risk factors. These include:

  • Hiring of inexperienced workers
  • Lack of proper orientation and training for workers, such as how to handle a new machinery safely
  • Non-establishment of proper controls to make the work environment conducive to the health and safety of the employees (e.g., too much bright light that can increase eye strain due to glare)
  • Weak prevention programs
  • Workers programs that are not up to standard or do not follow the guidelines of OSHA
  • Poor waste disposal methods (especially on hazardous wastes)

Other risk factors can be:

  • Age – Based on the NHI study, occupational injuries are common among workers who are between 19 and 24 years old.

  • Gender – Males are more susceptible to these types of injuries, particularly fatal ones, than women.

  • Industry – The BLS data reveal that construction, transportation and warehousing, agriculture and fishery, government, and professional and business services have some of the highest number of fatal work injuries cases, although when it comes to rate (in relation to the overall industry population), the top five are agriculture and fishery, mining, transportation, construction, and wholesale trade.

Key Symptoms

  • Pain in the joints especially on the limbs
  • Presence of fractures
  • Limited mobility
  • Hearing loss
  • Allergic reactions or asthma
  • Back pain especially on the lower back (lumbar)
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Disorientation
  • Blurry vision

Symptoms can significantly vary among occupational injuries (and some workers die suddenly). Further, for the injury to be called an occupational hazard, the employee should be able to associate the symptoms with the line of work. For example, the hearing loss must have occurred due to the very high level of noise in the workplace or that disorientation is caused by a blunt force to the head after a heavy object fell from a higher place.

Who to See and Treatments Available

Various health care professionals can provide the necessary care and treatment for those with occupational injuries. General practitioners can diagnose more common conditions like asthma or difficulty in breathing while specialists such as orthopedic, otolaryngologist, and EENT (eyes, ears, nose, throat) may be needed once the patient is referred. In some instances, surgeons are necessary for diagnoses and treatment. Regardless of the attending physician, it’s essential the health care provider has considerable knowledge on diagnosing and treating injuries and illnesses that can be caused directly or indirectly by the workplace.

The treatment for occupational injuries highly depends on the actual condition of the patient, extent of the injury, the level of exposure to the cause, and medical and family history. Any fracture, for example, needs surgery while MSDs may be treated with regular occupational and physical therapy.

The main thrust of both the public and the private industries, along with the government, is the prevention of occupational injuries. OSHA continues to update its guidelines and conducts audits or reviews on various businesses in the United States. It also helps companies develop a comprehensive workers’ program that meets the OSHA guidelines and standards.

Some of the basic elements identified by OSHA are:

  • Active participation of the workers in relation to their health and safety
  • Management leadership
  • Identification and assessment of risks
  • Education and training
  • Regular evaluation and improvement of the program

  • Centers for Disease Prevention and Control

  • National Health Institutes (NHI)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • Bureau of Labor and Statistics
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