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Reprinted with permission from Collen Bergin, Public Relations Manager, Intracorp.

A cross-industry survey reveals more than 50 percent of employers voluntarily budget for lost-time prevention services, despite lack of OSHA mandate

While Congress attempts to block the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from imposing federal ergonomics rules until more research on workplace injuries is completed, a recent survey by Intracorp reveals that many employers are addressing the issue voluntarily - and are already benefiting from those efforts. Philadelphia-based Intracorp provides health and disability management services, including ergonomic services, to thousands of employers nationwide.

The survey, conducted for Intracorp by independent market research firm Marketing Leverage, Inc., explored how companies are affected by repetitive worksite injuries and how they are addressing the problem through injury-prevention initiatives. The survey reached out to employers that have at least 1,000 employees and operate in one of the following four sectors: manufacturing, transportation/communication, health and business services, or wholesale/retail. The 164 respondents were injury-prevention professionals who said they have "personal accountability" for managing the costs of lost-time injuries.

Although respondents acknowledged the need to manage lost-time costs, cross-industry results revealed an inverse correlation between injury incidence rates and whether a budget was allocated for lost-time prevention services. Those businesses investing in prevention services are less likely to have high rates of repetitive motion/cumulative trauma (RM/CT) injuries, while those without a specific lost-time prevention budget are more likely to have high rates of RM/CT injuries.

For example, only 36 percent of the manufacturing companies surveyed devote resources to lost-time prevention services, yet 70 percent of companies in this industry report a medium or high incidence of RM/CT injuries. Conversely, 54 percent of the health and business services companies surveyed say they devote resources to prevention efforts, with only 33 percent of companies in this industry reporting a medium or high incidence of RM/CT injuries.

"Repetitive motion injuries occur because of the risk factors present in the performance of work tasks," notes Connie Vaughn, director of Prevention Services for Intracorp. "Unless the risk factors are addressed, returning an employee to the same job, performed in the same way, will most likely yield re-injury. Increasingly, we're seeing employers reduce that risk by taking responsibility for injury prevention through ergonomics initiatives, in addition to more traditional safety and loss control techniques."

Dually certified as a professional ergonomist and disability management specialist, Vaughn asserts that ergonomics is a critical tool for preventing injuries and re-injuries, and for reducing associated costs. Accordingly, she is encouraged by the fact that slightly more than half of the companies surveyed have a budget for prevention.

Much remains to be done, however, given the connection between lost time from work and RM/CT injury rates. Although many employers are taking workplace safety initiatives seriously, survey results show that of the companies with specific budgets allocated for lost-time prevention, only about 30 percent say their budget is increasing, while a slightly larger percentage say it is decreasing.

Other notable findings of the Intracorp study include:

Forty-three percent of all companies surveyed reported being concerned about the aging of their workforce relative to injury rates. This issue is of prime concern in the manufacturing industry where nearly 65 percent of respondents reported that the effect of the aging population on productivity is a concern.

Just over 40 percent of companies felt that they had a medium or high rate of RM/CT injuries, though there was no significant difference in these injuries by size, revenue or location of the company. Manufacturing companies are significantly more likely to have RM/CT injuries (70%); incidence was lowest among transportation companies (23%).

One-third of companies reported that more than 25 percent of their lost time is attributable to RM/CT injuries. The transportation and services industries have the lowest reported incidence of lost time related to these injuries.

(c) Copyright 1999, 2000 by Intracorp.