OSHA reports, “Businesses spend $170 billion a year on costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses.” Also, “Employers pay almost $1 billion per week for direct workers’ compensation costs alone.” These statements by themselves are alarming. But even more concerning is the fact that these costs are “expenditures that come straight out of company profits.”

It’s not hard to imagine how traumatic it can be to experience (or even witness) an accident at work. But what not many people think about is the frequency that these injuries occur and the impact they can have on a company’s bottom line.

It’s true that government regulations have helped keep workers safer. But on-the-job accidents continue to be a big problem for many businesses – and the printing industry is no exception. In the pressroom, some of the most common accidents are cuts and lacerations that occur when operators are handling steel doctor blades. Their edges are incredibly sharp, and machinists need to be extremely careful when installing and removing them from the press to avoid seriously injuring their hands.

Hand injuries in numbers

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, hand injuries account for 1,080,000 emergency department visits by workers every year in the U.S. (Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, May 1, 2015). In fact, hand injuries ranked second in number after back strains, sprains and other work injuries to the torso in 2015, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. BLS), and close to 20% of all workplace injuries involved cuts and lacerations to the hand and fingers.

Some other statistics assign dollars to these injuries. The U.S. BLS informs us that hand and wrist accidents, the most expensive of all emergency department injuries, cost $740 million every year; the average hand injury claim now exceeds $6,000, with each lost-time workers’ compensation claim totaling just under $7,500.

Hidden costs of hand injuries

Equally significant are the indirect costs associated with work-related injuries. A study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery indicates that productivity costs due to absenteeism contributed more to the total costs of hand and wrist injuries (56%) than did directly related health-care costs. The U.S. BLS recorded 124,540 on-the-job hand injuries in 2015 that resulted in recordable missed work time of 5 days each. These and other secondary costs – machine downtime, equipment repairs, training of replacement employees, accident investigation, implementation of preventive measures, not to mention bad publicity – contribute to the already steep costs of workplace injuries.

Like many companies, printers pay a high price for on-the-job injuries. Some of these costs directly affect profits while others have an impact on operations and employee well-being that’s harder to quantify. One thing is certain though – as OSHA cautions, “In today’s business environment, these costs can be the difference between operating in the black and running in the red.”

Look for part two of our In Safe Hands with Polymer Doctor Blades Blog Series – “Steel Doctor Blade Risk Management” to learn about ways to reduce or eliminate these risks.

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