Education as the Cure to Expensive Workplace Injury Costs

Katia Cortes

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2023


The signing of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 decreased workplace deaths and injuries in the United States. Signed by President Richard Nixon more than fifty years ago, the purpose of the law is to secure “safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources.” One reason for enacting the law was to address the substantial financial burden that workplace injuries and illnesses put on interstate commerce. However, it is estimated that as of 2018, employers still spent an average of 1 billion dollars per week on workers’ compensation costs. This high price of workplace injuries can be reduced through more rigorous education and training for employees. Employers should be required to implement increased training and education to employees. Doing so would strengthen OSHA’s regulatory effect with a decrease in workplace incidents and the high price associated with them.

The consequences of not properly educating and training employees

I recently spoke with a friend who was injured while at his factory job this summer. He explained that although he had worked at that factory for most of his career, he was never properly trained on how to use the machine that led to his injury. New employees were trained by current employees who had developed bad habits and loopholes for working the machines. Since there had not been a serious injury at the factory in many years, management did not prioritize proper training and education for either new or seasoned employees.

My friend was injured while attempting to fix a jam in a small machine. He now attends physical therapy and had to take paid time off work – both of which his employer pays for. I wonder; had he received the proper training and education to run the machine and fix any issues, would he have been injured in the same way? Would the company have had to pay out his time off and physical therapy? Would morale at the factory be higher and therefore foster a more productive atmosphere?

The problem

Depending on the state, most employers are required to pay for workers’ compensation insurance to cover their injured or ill employees. Every state is different, but in Illinois, an employee who is injured  at work must notify their employer of an injury or illness within forty five days of the incident. The employer is required by law to file a report with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission if the accident results in more than three days off work. During this time, the employer should provide a list of approved medical professionals for the injured employee and notify the employer’s insurance provider. Paying an employee for workers’ compensation is not only expensive on its face, but also detrimental to a company that may now have to hire and train new employees, make repairs, and handle a damaged reputation. Also, morale may decrease with current employees following an incident in the workplace. When Congress passed the OSH Act of 1970, the goal was to remedy these burdens and prevent lost production, medical expenses, wage lost, and disability compensation payments. Requiring increased education in workplaces across the country will continue to advance the purpose of the act.

The most common causes of workplace injuries that require emergency treatment are contact with objects and equipment, overexertion, bodily reaction, and falls, slips, and trips. In 2019, 229,410 workplace injuries due to contact with objects or equipment were so severe that the worker injured was required to take time away from work. Many of these injuries (and the costs associated with them) can be prevented by increased training and educational methods to ensure proper compliance and safety in the workplace.

Educating current employees on proper protocol helps prevent incidents and save companies money

Educating employees on safety protocols can decrease the number of injuries suffered by employees and protect their employer’s wallet and reputation. Although some injuries may be the fault of a negligent employee, improper training on behalf of the employer can result in shared or complete employer liability. Implementing a program to educate employees, specifically those that work with heavy machinery or dangerous chemicals, on proper safety methods also boosts employee morale and work culture. OSHA has encouraged employers to fix workplace issues and train employees on appropriate protocol before an employee is injured on the job. When educating employees, the focus must be on the dangers of their industry and the appropriate ways to handle the machinery and materials in their workplace. Many states have adopted some form of an illness and injury prevention program. In those states, workplace injuries and illnesses were significantly reduced in the years after the implementation of the programs. In 1972, there were about 10.9 cases of nonfatal injuries and illnesses among private industry workplaces per 100 full-time employees. In 2018, this number decreased to around 2.8 cases per 100 full-time employees.

Where injuries are reduced, the costs of paying injured employees are also greatly reduced. The Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation reported that incident prevention measures, such as education, reduced the average number of compensation claims by fifty two percent. They also reduce the average claim cost by eighty percent. Ultimately, adding additional employee training and education requirements would strengthen OSHA’s impact, save money, and protect employer’s reputation.

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