Which workplace injuries offer the most compensation?

Specialist also reveals the most common job-related illnesses and injuries

Which workplace injuries offer the most compensation?

Workers Comp

By Mark Rosanes

Work-related injuries and illnesses cost US businesses a combined $163.9 billion in losses, the latest data from the National Safety Council (NSC), the country’s leading non-profit public health and safety service organization, has revealed.

Broken down, the figure – which reflects 2020 data – consists of:

  • $61 billion in administrative costs
  • $44.8 billion in wage and productivity losses
  • $34.9 billion in medical expenses
  • $12.8 billion in uninsured costs, which include the value of time lost by workers – excluding those with disabling injuries – and the cost of time required to investigate these injuries
  • $6.2 billion in fire losses
  • $4.3 billion in motor vehicle-related workplace injuries

The NSC’s 2020 Injury Facts report also showed that the average cost per worker was $1,100. The council pointed out, however, that this amount represents the value of goods and services each employee must produce to offset the cost of a job-related injury and is not the average cost of a workplace injury.

The cost per medically consulted injury, meanwhile, was at $44,000, while the cost for incidents resulting in death averaged $1.31 million. These figures include estimates of lost wages, medical and administrative expenses, employer costs, and motor vehicle damage. Other types of property damage are excluded.

“These cost estimates are a measure of the economic impact of preventable injuries and may be compared to other economic measures, such as gross domestic product, per capita income, and personal consumption expenditures,” the council noted. “The costs reflect the impact to society, not specifically to employers.”

What are the most common types of work-related injuries?

The coronavirus outbreak has propelled “exposure to harmful substances or environments” atop the list of the most common causes of “nonfatal workplace illnesses and injuries involving days away from work” after ranking just number six before the onset of the pandemic in 2019. According to NSC, this category also covers “other diseases due to viruses.”

Overexertion and bodily reaction, and slips, trips, and falls are the next biggest categories. These three groups account for three-fourths of all nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses recorded by the council.

Here’s a breakdown of the five most common causes of work-related injuries and illnesses, according to NSC’s latest data.

1. Exposure to harmful substances or environments

Number of incidents: 424,360
Overall share: 36.1%
Industry most at-risk: Health care and social assistance

Because of the pandemic, the number of nonfatal workplace illnesses and injuries that resulted in at least one missed day shot up significantly from 36,840 to 424,360, an astounding 1,052% rise. Unsurprisingly, “other diseases due to viruses, not elsewhere classified” was the most common case type. According to the NSC, the category, which led to an average of 13 days lost, includes the following incidents:

  • Exposure to electricity
  • Exposure to radiation and noise
  • Exposure to temperature extremes
  • Exposure to air and water pressure change
  • Exposure to other harmful substances (including contagious and infectious diseases such as COVID-19)
  • Exposure to oxygen deficiency
  • Exposure to traumatic or stressful events

2. Overexertion and bodily reaction

Number of incidents: 255,490
Overall share: 21.7%
Industry most at-risk: Transportation and warehousing

This type of injury consists of two categories:

  • Non-impact injuries: These result from excessive physical effort directed at an outside source. Common activities that lead to such injuries include lifting, pushing, turning, holding, carrying, and throwing.
  • Repetitive motion: These refer to “microtasks” that lead to stress or strain on certain parts of the body due to the repetitive nature of the task. These typically occur without strenuous effort such as heavy lifting.

According to the report, the back is the most frequent body hurt during such incidents, which results in an average of 14 days of missed work. Reported cases of overexertion decreased 7.3% from 275,590, dropping the category from first to second place in the list.

3. Falls, slips, and trips

Number of incidents: 211,640
Overall share: 18%
Industry most at-risk: Transportation and warehousing; agriculture

Incidents of slips, trips, and falls declined about 13% from 244,000 in 2019, causing the category to slide to the third spot. Sprains, strains, and tears are the most common injury type, affecting primarily the 55 and above age group.

The NSC classified the following incidents under falls, slips, and trips:

  • Slips and trips without falling: These are injuries sustained even if the workers have prevented themselves from falling.
  • Falling on the same level: This includes tripping, slipping, falling while sitting, and falling onto or against an object on the same level.
  • Falling to a lower level: This includes falling from a collapsing structure, falling through surfaces, and falling from ladders, roofs, scaffolding, or other structures.
  • Jumping to a lower level: This varies from other types of falls because such action is controlled and voluntary.

4. Contact with objects and equipment

Number of incidents: 196,140
Overall share: 16.7%

This category includes:

  • A moving object striking a worker
  • A worker striking against an object or equipment, including bumping into, stepping on, kicking, or being pushed or thrown onto an object
  • A part of a worker’s body being squeezed, pinched, compressed, or crushed in equipment, between shifting objects, between stationary objects, or in a wire or rope
  • A worker being struck, caught, or crushed in collapsing structure, equipment, or material
  • A worker being injured because of friction or pressure between the person and the source of injury
  • A worker being injured due to vibration

The number of workplace injuries resulting from contact with objects and equipment dropped 34% from 299,410 in 2019. More than half, or 56%, of all incidents under the category involved being struck by an object or equipment.

5. Transportation incidents

Number of incidents: 41,010
Overall share: 3.5%

The NSC classified the following under this category:

  • Aircraft incidents             
  • Rail vehicle incidents      
  • Animal and other non-motorized vehicle transportation incidents                            
  • Pedestrian vehicular incidents    
  • Water vehicle incidents 
  • Roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicle        
  • Non-roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicles

The volume of transportation-related workplace injuries dipped 17% in 2020 from 49,430 in the previous year. Roadway accidents accounted for almost two-thirds (63%) of incidents under the category. 

Which workplace injuries offer the most compensation?

The combined average cost for workplace illness and injury claims in 2019 and 2020 was $41,353, according to data from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), the country’s workers’ compensation insurance rating and data collection bureau.

To get a complete picture of how much compensation different work-related illnesses and injuries received, the council calculated medical and indemnity costs based on three major categories – cause of injury, nature of the injury, and part of the body.

The tables below reveal which occupational injuries and illnesses from these categories offer the most compensation based on NCCI’s data.

Workers’ compensation cost by cause

Cause of injury




Motor vehicle
















Struck by








Cumulative injuries




Striking against




Miscellaneous cause








Source: NCCI Workers’ Compensation Statistical Plan

Workers’ compensation cost by nature

Nature of injury












Other trauma
















Carpal tunnel












Occ. disease/cumulative injury




Source: NCCI Workers’ Compensation Statistical Plan


Workers’ compensation cost by part

Part of the body








Multiple body parts




















Lower back




Upper back












Source: NCCI Workers’ Compensation Statistical Plan

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