How to Prevent Workplace Injury in First-year Employees and What to Do If It Happens

Holly Denny

With an abundance of supporting evidence – going back almost a century – it’s a widely accepted reality that employees are more likely to experience a work-related illness or injury during their first 12 months on the job.1 In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that new employees are five times more likely to get injured than more seasoned employees.2 Understandably, many employers assume that youth and inexperience are the leading causes of this phenomenon. While these are certainly key ingredients for some first-year injuries, recent studies have shown that neither age nor experience is the primary culprit. Instead, “newness” to a particular role or work environment seems to be the deciding factor in the majority of first-year work injuries.3 Armed with this data, Concentra® helps employers reduce the risk of illness and injury among new employees – and minimize the consequences of first-year injuries that do occur – through strategic occupational health care solutions.

Breaking Down First-year Injuries

When defining a first-year injury, it’s important to only consider the employee’s time in their current role and work environment. Again, continuous tenure is often regarded as the most influential factor in work-related injury rates.3 With the relatively recent pandemic-driven shifts in the workplace, more employees than ever before are re-entering the workforce after retirement or an extended absence, with many others choosing to transition into a new role or move to a completely different industry altogether.4 Since the year 2000, in fact, there has been a 10 percent increase in employees over the age of 55 in the workforce. With the steep rise in (what are considered) “new employees,” and – because new employees are at the greatest risk for sustaining an injury – it is critical that employers take action to prevent these injuries.

In a recently released analysis of more than 1.5 million workers’ compensation claims made between 2015 and 2019, Travelers Insurance reported that 35 percent of all workplace injuries occurred during an employee’s first year on the job – with the restaurant, construction, and transportation industries being among the worst-affected. For instance, over half of the workers’ compensation claims made in the restaurant industry – and up to 47 percent of claims costs – involved first-year employees. Sprains and strains accounted for 38 percent of first-year injuries across all industries, with overexertion topping the list of injury causes.5

The Consequences of Early Injury for Employers

Regardless of when they occur, work-related injuries can be damaging to both the employee and employer. For employees, an injury sustained at work can lead to lost wages, the fear of repeat injury, and the inability to perform certain tasks. For employers, workplace injuries often result in absenteeism, presenteeism, decreased productivity, increased claims costs, and employee turnover.6 When it comes to first-year injuries specifically, the fallout may be even greater, with a 2013 study reporting that nearly 25 percent of first-year employee injuries resulted in over 31 days of lost work.7 Travelers Insurance also reported more than six million lost workdays associated with first-year injuries alone.5

Preventing New Employee Injury With the Help of an Occupational Health Partner

Concentra’s dedicated team of clinicians, analysts, and occupational health care experts can help employers and employees alike to avoid the costly and disruptive consequences of first-year workplace injuries. Among the most effective tools and techniques for preventing new employee injuries are:

Skill assessments: Ensuring a new hire is able to perform their intended job functions plays a crucial role in preventing work-related injuries. Through Human Performance Evaluations (HPEs), Concentra clinicians can assess a potential employee’s skills and abilities between the acceptance of an offer and the first day of employment. These evaluations can also help to identify modifications to the employee’s job duties that may be necessary to safeguard them from injury.

Workplace safety evaluations: Continuous assessment and updating of workplace health and safety standards – through ergonomic evaluations, clinical consultations, and other Concentra services – helps employers stay aware of potential hazards in the workplace and proactively address them before injury occurs.

Early education and training: By outlining the full scope of duties and responsibilities associated with a particular role from day one, employers can ensure their new hires understand the detailed demands of a position and have the opportunity to express any potential concerns. Based on this outline, a comprehensive training program can be developed and implemented immediately upon hire, eliminating the window of uncertainty or vulnerability that is often responsible for early employee injuries.

From a more general standpoint, employers should be deliberate in the hiring and placement of new employees, with the prevention of first-year injuries being a primary motivation. Oftentimes, rank or seniority results in the most perilous duties falling to new employees, which adds to first-year injury occurrences.8 To combat this – and to reduce the risk of early injury – new hires should be introduced to progressively complex or advanced tasks over time.

Minimizing the Consequences of First-year Employee Injuries

Even with dedicated occupational safety and health protocols in place, studies show that most industries will record some number of first-year injuries during each reporting period.9 When unavoidable first-year injuries do occur, the employer’s focus must shift to minimizing the consequences of that injury – for both the business and the employee. For first-year employees specifically, an injury sustained early during their tenure may be particularly traumatic and amplify the expected fear or hesitation an employee may have about returning to work. Early injuries can also lead new employees to question whether they can (or should) perform their job functions altogether. Ultimately, these unique challenges can lead to lengthy absences, decreased productivity, increased claims costs, and pronounced employee turnover.10 At Concentra, we recognize the complex nature of first-year injuries for both employers and employees and concentrate on optimizing the return-to-work process by addressing the patient’s physiological issues as well as any psychosocial concerns that may slow their physical healing and emotional recovery.

Another beneficial step that can be taken in the face of an early injury is to gather data that can be useful in preventing similar incidents. By studying first-year injuries that occur within specific roles and among certain employee groups, Concentra can identify injury patterns and their possible causation, ultimately allowing employers to make strategic changes to their procedures and operations that will reduce subsequent injuries in those same settings.

Avoid the Fallout of a First-year Injury with the Right Occupational Health Provider

With more “new employees” entering, re-entering, or moving throughout the workforce in recent years, it is more important than ever for employers to understand the potential impact of first-year injuries and to take an active role in early injury prevention. With the help of Concentra, first-year injury rates can be reduced, employees can return to work sooner and more confidently, and subsequent injuries can be prevented. To learn more about protecting your workforce with integrated occupational health and safety solutions, contact Concentra to speak with one of our knowledgeable team members today.


  1. F C Breslin, et al. Trial by fire: a multivariate examination of the relation between job tenure and work injuries. Occupational & Environmental Medicine. January 2006; 63(1): 27-32.
  2. Don’t become part of the statistic – reduce new hire injuries.” Smart Business Network. December 28, 2017.
  3. Study finds persistency of higher injury risk for new workers.” Institute for Work & Health. At Work (69). July 26, 2012.
  4. First Year Employees Record Highest Injury Rates,” by Ian Kea. The Patient Advocate Pharmacy. May 6, 2022.
  5. The Travelers Injury Impact Report. Travelers. 2015-2019. Valued December 31, 2020.
  6. M Dobson, et al. Work-Related Burden of Absenteeism, Presenteeism, and Disability: An Epidemiologic and Economic Perspective. Handbook of Disability, Work and Health. July 30, 2020; (251-272).
  7. New workers, higher risk,” by Sarah Trotto. Safety + Health. May 22, 2016.
  8. Cut down the risk of injury for your new employees.” SFM. June 6, 2019.
  9. Injury Claims by First-Year Employees has Increased.” EHS Today. April 27, 2022.
  10. Nathan Huizinga, et al. Association between Occupational Injury and Subsequent Employment Termination among Newly Hired Manufacturing Workers. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. February 2, 2019; 16(3): 433.