The Top 5 Causes of Workplace Injuries in the U.S.

What frequently causes workplace injuries in the United States? With a quick Google search, there’s access to a great deal of information on the topic; however, not all data online is accurate.

We’ve done the hard work for you, and compiled data from trusted sources across the web to bring you the top five causes of workplace injuries in the country. Graphs have been included in each section for a quick overview, as well as all of the details. Whether you’re an employer or employee, we hope you find these insights valuable.

Top 5 Causes of Workplace Injuries in the U.S.

1. Overexertion

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Overexertion was the number one cause of workplace injury across the board with all four sources. In FindLaw’s survey, 37 percent of workers reported suffering some type of musculoskeletal injuries from overexertion. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 35.6 percent of workplace injuries during 2014. This number is slightly decreased from 2013, but musculoskeletal disorders remain the number one cause of workplace injury and illness.

What is overexertion? According to a guide by Barbara Mulhern and Vern Putz Anderson, Ph.D., CPE:

“Overexertion occurs when a person works beyond his or her physical capacity or, more specifically, when the physical forces required to perform a task exceed the tolerances of the body’s soft tissues.”

Overexertion falls into two categories: sprains from tearing or stretching ligaments, or strains from tearing or stretching tendons or muscles. The most common type of overexertion injury involves the back and shoulders, usually resulting in the most days away from work compared to other workplace injuries, and tends to be the costliest workplace injury.

Consumer News Weekly placed physical exertion (the most common cause of musculoskeletal disorders) as its number one workplace injury based on reports from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). The Insurance Journal also reports overexertion as its number one cause of workplace injuries, with 32.5 percent of workplace accidents being associated with overexertion based on the number of workers’ compensation claims filed and data gathered from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Academy of Social Insurance.

2. Slip and Fall Injuries

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Slip and fall injuries took the second position in all four lists. In the FindLaw survey, slip and fall injuries came in a close second for the most common types of workplace injury. Thirty-one percent of respondents reported they suffered a slip and fall injury while at work. The BLS also has slip and fall cases as the second most common cause of workplace injuries with 29.3 percent of the total work-related injury cases in 2013 being slip and fall accidents.

When reviewing the Consumer Weekly and the Insurance Journal lists, slip and falls also come in a close second, with the Insurance Journal reporting slip and falls as 27.6 percent of workers’ compensation claims filed (combining same level and lower level falls).

3. Struck by Equipment or Caught in/Compressed by Equipment

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According to the BLS report, accidents involving equipment accounted for 23.8 percent of workplace injuries, placing it in the third position for the most common causes of workplace injuries. However, our other sources did not agree. Respondents to the FindLaw survey placed this cause of injury as the fourth most common, with 17 percent of the respondents reporting injury from machinery or being struck by an object.

Consumer News Weekly puts dangerous machinery further down its list at number eight out of 10 common causes of workplace injuries, but the Insurance Journal places machinery accidents at number three on its list.

4. Motor Vehicle Accidents

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We place transportation accidents as our fourth most common workplace injury; the BLS places motor vehicle accidents in its number five slot, with 5.8 percent of the total workplace accidents being related to motor vehicle accidents. Consumer News and the FindLaw survey also place vehicle accidents in the number five slot, with the Insurance Journal dropping this cause of workplace accidents into its sixth place position.

The sources we examined disagreed on the fourth most common cause of workplace injury. According to the BLS, violence and other injuries by persons or animals hold the fourth position, with 6.8 percent of the cases. However, violence is the least common cause of workplace injury according to Consumer News, and it does not even appear on the FindLaw or Insurance Journal List.

5. Repetitive Motion Injuries

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Repetitive injuries are the third most common injury according to the FindLaw survey (20 percent of respondents); however, it is number five on our list based on the data provided by the BLS and Insurance Journal. The data provided by BLS places repetitive motion injuries at the bottom of its list, only above injury caused by fires and explosions. Consumer News has this cause of injury as number seven on its list, but the Insurance Journal places this type of accident as number nine on its list of common workplace accidents.

Most Common Workplace Injuries

Based on the common causes of workplace injuries, we can determine what the common workplace injuries are.

By far, sprains, strains, and tears are the most common type of workplace injury according to information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average time out of work for this type of injury is 10 days.

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Musculoskeletal disorders, also referred to as repetitive motion injuries, caused by overexertion, are the second most common type of workplace injury and require an average of 13 days out of work. Common types of musculoskeletal disorders include tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tension neck syndrome, trigger finger, degenerative disc disease, ruptured/herniated disc, epicondylitis, radial tunnel syndrome, and muscle/tendon strain.

Other common workplace injuries include:

  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Closed head injuries, contusions, and concussions
  • Broken bones and fractures
  • Burns
  • Lacerations
  • Internal bleeding and/or damage to internal organs
  • Heat stroke
  • Open wound
  • Amputation

The Cost of Workplace Injuries

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The severity of the injury determines the amount of time an employee is out of work. For a minor injury, the employee may only miss a few days of work, whereas an employee with a severe TBI may not return to work for several months, if he or she is ever able to return to work. For this reason, it is difficult to estimate the cost of workplace accidents; however, one estimate places the cost of workplace injuries at $250 billion each year. The true cost of workplace injuries must include the actual cost of medical treatment and lost wages, and it must also include the loss of productivity and human loss.

Because workplace injuries can leave the employee with permanent, life-altering conditions and disabilities, it is extremely important to seek immediate medical care and to consult with an attorney as soon as possible.


The High Cost of Overexertion Injuries: Guidance for Retailers,  by Barbara Mulhern and Vern Putz Anderson, Ph.D., CPE, “The 5 Most Common Workplace Injuries Revealed,” Aditi Mukherji, JD, December 18, 2013

U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away From Work, 2014,” November 19, 2015

Consumer News Weekly, “Ten Most Common Workplace Accidents,” Edward Lewis, February 10, 2015

Insurance Journal, “Top 10 Causes of Workplace Injuries,” January 16, 2015

Houston Chronicle (Hearst Newspapers), “Types of Injuries in the Workplace,” Jennifer Williams, Demand Media

Ergonomics Plus, “The Definition and Causes of Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs),” Matt Middlesworth, May 15

Economic Policy Institute, “Workplace injuries and illnesses cost U.S. $250 billion annually,” Ross Eisenbrey, January 3, 2013