Workplace Accident: Definition, Types & Effects

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Workplace accidents hurt - not only employees, but also employers too. In this lesson, you'll learn more about workplace accidents, the most common types and the effects that can come as a result of an accident.

Watch Your Step!

It's Friday and you're looking forward to the weekend ahead. You just have a few more tasks to complete at work before punching out and getting the evening started. You climb a ladder to put a box of files back on the top shelf when ... oops! You lose your balance, drop the box and stumble down the ladder. Now, it looks like you're going to be spending your weekend with ice on your sprained ankle.

Workplace accidents are no joke. In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were nearly three million nonfatal workplace injuries at private employers in the country. And, that doesn't include the more serious accidents that can cost a person his or her life.

In this lesson, we're going to look more closely at what is meant by workplace accident, how hazards and risks differ, and the consequences of these events on the job.

What is a Workplace Accident?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, frequently called OSHA for short, has a succinct definition for a workplace accident. It's an ''unplanned event that results in personal injury or property damage.'' OSHA is a government body tasked with helping keep workplaces safe for its employees.

Herbert William Henrich, a founding father of sorts for the workplace safety movement, called workplace accidents ''unplanned and uncontrolled events'' resulting in personal injury.

Whatever variation of the definition you prefer, workplace accidents can be painful and costly for both employers and employees. Here are a few types of accidents most commonly reported in the workplace.

Types of Workplace Accidents

1. Overexertion: We do it all the time: pull a bookcase, carry heavy equipment or lift awkward boxes. Injuries from overexertion, such as sprains and strains, are the leading workplace accident out there.

2. Falling: Just like in our opening example, falling presents a significant risk in many work environments. It could be as simple as falling down stairs or tumbling off a roof.

3. Slips and trips: Have you ever seen the image of someone slipping on a banana peel? It's the same idea (probably minus the banana). Slips and trips can be the culprit behind things like muscle strains and other injuries.

4. Falling objects: Whether it's a heavy box of files or a piece of machinery at a construction site, falling objects present a particular risk of head injuries to workers.

5. Repetitive motion: It's a little less obvious, but repetitive motion injuries have an impact on many types of workers, from frequent computer users who struggle with carpal tunnel syndrome to auto mechanics who develop chronic back pain.

Hazards, Risks, and Safety

Preventing workplace accidents means developing a solid grasp on the differences between hazards and risks.

Hazards are things that can potentially cause damage or health consequences to workers. That means even something as simple as a computer could be considered a hazard; after all, repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel come from prolonged computer usage.

Other hazards could be knives, wet floors, even bullying behaviors. Think about hazards as categories. They could be biological (bacteria or animal excrement, for example), chemical, ergonomic (poor workstation setup), physical, emotional (bullying or extreme stress), and safety-related.

Risk, on the other hand, is the likelihood that a worker may be harmed by coming into contact with a particular hazard. Risks can go up or down based on how frequently a worker is exposed to a hazard. Using a computer (the hazard) every day and all day long would elevate your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome at some point in your career.

Workplace safety, as a broad umbrella, encompasses all of the hazards, risks and accidents that happen on the job. Most employers want to work to increase workplace safety and to diminish not only the impact on workers, but also the company as well.

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