Liberty Mutual Group has released its second annual “Workplace Safety Index” just in time to help inform the policy debate that will no doubt rage over the Bush Administration's recent attempt to neutralize the ergonomics issue by making it largely a matter of voluntary action.

But whether you fall — no pun intended! — on the traditionally Democratic or Republican side of the aisle when it comes to how hands-on government should be in the workplace, the facts revealed in this study are useful to anyone concerned about worker safety.

“The findings of the safety index will help in the discussion about the most effective way to improve workplace safety by identifying the top ten causes of workplace accidents and their direct and indirect costs,” says Liberty Mutual senior vp Karl Jacobson, who is responsible for safety and health research and product development at the Boston-based insurance firm.

“The index provides motivation and a road map to help employers reduce all workplace accidents, including those that are ergonomic-related,” adds Jacobson.

The index is based on workplace injuries reported in 1999, the last year for which data is available. And it should be noted this year's results closely match those from Liberty Mutual's 2001 index. In fact, the rank order of the top ten causes of workplace injuries was identical, with “overexertion” and “falls” being the leading causes.

But the direct cost of these injuries (that is, payments to injured workers and their medical-care providers) climbed 3.6% to $40.1 billion in the '02 index from $38.7 billion in the '01 index.

And the total financial impact of both direct and indirect costs (including lost productivity and overtime) is estimated by the '02 index to be as high as $240 billion.

Without further adieu, here are the top ten causes of worker injuries: overexertion; fall on same level; bodily reaction; (injuries from a single incident of “free” body motion); fall to lower level; struck by object; repetitive motion; highway accidents; struck against object (such as by walking into a door frame); caught in or compressed by equipment; and contact with temperature extremes.

Two causes within the top ten — “overexertion” and “repetitive motion” — are major causes of ergonomic-related workplace injuries.

And when it comes to truck drivers, bear in mind “overexertion” isn't much of a semantic walk from “fatigue,” and remember the hours-of-service debate isn't dead yet either.

On the other hand, it's hard to perceive “repetitive motion” as a factor in driver injuries but then again I am not a lawyer. Some have argued that “sitting” all day in a truck cab is injurious to back health, for example.

But some of the other “top tens” certainly bring to mind known dangers to drivers going about their jobs. Drivers certainly suffer from their share of slips and falls; they can be struck by flying objects in their cabs or on loading docks; and they can be injured by equipment and temperature extremes. And, of course, despite even their best efforts, they get injured in highway accidents.

“The value of the annual index is in highlighting the major injury causes, direct and indirect costs, and the importance of workplace safety as well as providing information employers can use to reduce injuries,” Jacobson points out.

“Having two years of similar data will encourage risk managers and safety directors to use the index to focus their resources on the major causes of workplace injury, benchmark their current performance and reduce injuries,” he adds.

The full results of the '02 index can be viewed online by going to www.libertymutual.com.