Is there any such thing as a low cost work injury?

July 15, 2015

By Steve Lisowe, MSPT

Employers in the state of NH have long been looking for ways to control the medical costs associated with a work injury. In fact, legislation is currently being considered to do just that. And while medical costs can be quite high in some cases, it doesn’t nearly begin to tell the whole story of all related costs of a work related injury.

Unfortunately, when injured workers are out of work longer than 3 months, 50% or less actually return. In an article by Waddell and Burton titled “Is Work Good for your Health and Well-Being?”, the authors discuss some of the costs of unemployment. They include higher mortality, poorer general health, limiting longstanding illness, poorer mental health, psychological distress, minor psychological/psychiatric morbidity, higher medical consultation, greater medication consumption, and higher hospital admission rates. This could be due to a lack of identity, where in the U.S. people are often identified by what their occupation is. Another factor may be loss of income potential. As cited by OSHA, on average, following a workplace injury, workers earn 15 percent less than they did in the 10 years prior to their injury.

When looking at the actual costs associated with work place injuries, employers pay only 21 percent of the costs through workers’ compensation. Families of the injured worker end up bearing 50 percent of the costs and taxpayers pay 16 percent through programs such as food stamps or Social Security Disability. Employers also face other costs besides the medical costs. The indemnity costs, which are wages paid to workers who haven’t returned to work, are often as much as or more than the medical costs. Job satisfaction and job turnover are other costs closely associated with an injury. The costs of replacing workers who cannot return to work or leave due to job dissatisfaction can cost employers several thousand dollars for each new worker that is hired. Furthermore, when a worker is out of work, it may force other workers to work overtime or transfer into jobs that they do not want or are ill-equipped to do, further contributing to their job dissatisfaction and injury potential.

The best approach to prevent all of these costs is to prevent the injury all together. Of course, if one does occur, a safe and timely return to work is critical for the health and well-being of the worker and the employer. Job Function Tests ™ and onsite injury prevention screening by experienced physical therapists have proven to be effective in controlling these costs.