Falls Now Leading Cause of Spinal Cord Injuries in the U.S.

May 20, 2014

Employee safety is paramount for all companies across the U.S., especially those in the manufacturing, construction and health care industries. While a comprehensive workers' compensation insurance policy is an ideal way to reduce an employer's risk for work related injuries and illnesses, there are also other ways an employer can reduce risks and promote a safe, secure workplace.

Some of the biggest hazards each day are falls, slips and trips. These can occur at any moment, and may lead to a wide range of injuries and insurance claims. Therefore, it is especially important for organizations to find ways to reduce hazards and better protect employees.

Falls have now become the leading cause of traumatic spinal cord injuries, according to recent industry research. Given this increase, it is imperative that more companies place greater emphasis on risk management plans and other viable loss prevention measures.

Rate of spinal cord injuries increases
Over the past several years, spinal cord injuries were most likely to occur due to serious car crashes. Now, researchers from Johns Hopkins University have found that the leading cause has shifted to falls, the prevalence of which isn't limited to the elderly.

Recently, Johns Hopkins conducted a study which included a sample of 43,137 adults across the U.S. These participants were ages 18 and up, and were treated for traumatic spinal cord injury between 2007 and 2009. For the age group between 18 and 64, the incidence rate was 52.3 per million in 2007 and 49.9 per million in 2009. For those over the age of 64, that ranged from 79.4 to 87.7, respectively. Falls were the most likely cause over that time period, resulting in 41.5 percent of all traumatic spinal cord injuries. Close behind were motor vehicle crashes, at 35.5 percent.

The researchers at Johns Hopkins added that spinal cord injuries take a costly toll on the health care system. They estimated that between the years of the study, emergency room charges alone reached $1.6 billion.

"We have demonstrated how costly traumatic spinal cord injury is and how lethal and disabling it can be among older people," said Shalini Selvarajah, M.D., M.P.H., a postdoctoral surgical research fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and leader of the study. "It's an area that is ripe for prevention."

How to limit falls in the workplace
Because of the increased connection between falls and spinal cord injuries, it is now more important than ever for organizations to find ways to limit risk in the workplace and improve employee safety. One way to do that is through a workers' compensation insurance policy.

In addition to obtaining workers' compensation insurance, there are also steps one could take within the organization itself. According to ReliablePlant, there are a number of situations that could lead to a slip, trip or fall. For example, wet or greasy floors, uneven surfaces, clutter, damaged equipment and weather could also pose a threat. These threats can be reduced within organizations that follow best practices for loss prevention. Organizational commitment to best practices starts with upper management and works its way down and through the organization.

To get started, here are three easy-to-implement steps companies should take:

  • Plan ahead. Be proactive in terms of loss prevention, first aid and pre-injury medical care arrangements.
  • Create an effective and comprehensive safety program.
  • Delegate responsibility for the program and communicate those responsibilities to the individual or group assigned to handle these tasks.

Management has to be prepared for any inevitability, ReliablePlant explained. This means staff members have to know what needs to be done, who has to do it and where in the workplace these steps have to take place. A program implemented by management can simplify this process, effectively keeping everyone in the company up-to-date about any changes or new policies.

In addition, one of the easiest ways to reduce falls is to fix hazardous areas as soon as they become apparent. For example, all wet spots will be cleaned promptly, and signs can be placed around freshly-waxed floors or other similar locations. A company that is proactive will best be able to protect its employees.

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