Earlier this month, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) issued a report detailing recent, troubling trends in the American workforce. The March 4, 2015 report, Adding Inequality to Injury: The Costs of Failing to Protect Workers on the Job, highlights major problems facing workers who are injured in job-related accidents.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 4,500 workers are killed each year in work accidents. Another 3 million workers are injured. However, it is estimated that the majority of work accidents are never even reported. This is especially true for undocumented workers who often don’t report work injuries due to fear of losing their jobs. In addition, half of all reported injuries require at least one day off from work, a work transfer or a work restriction.
Related: OSHA Work Accident Reporting Requirements – Important Changes (September 2014)
These issues are exacerbated by two key factors, 1. employers are increasingly using “independent contractors” or “temporary workers,” and 2. changes in workers’ compensation insurance which make it more difficult for injured workers to get full benefits.
Using Independent Contractors/Temporary Workers
To cut costs, employers are turning to independent contractors or temporary workers. This creates large gaps in workplace safety environments in two ways. First, independent contractors and temp workers are often poorly trained, if they are trained at all, in industry-specific safety protocols and procedures. Second, use of these kinds of workers creates a situation where employers don’t bother to enforce safety procedures.
In essence, it’s a double-whammy. Unsafe working conditions absolutely increase the risk of serious work accidents and injuries.
Workers’ Compensation Insurance
Over the past several years, changes in the way workers’ compensation benefits are administered have made it more difficult for injured workers to obtain and keep benefits. At least one study referenced in the report found that less than 40% of injured workers apply for workers’ compensation benefits. When comparing data from the BLS, which tracks worker injury statistics, there is a large discrepancy in the number of reported injury cases and corresponding workers’ compensation claims. In other words, a sizable proportion of injured workers do not receive workers’ compensation benefits. Another study discussed in the report found that in California, 1/3 of workers who suffered amputation injuries, which were actually reported to OSHA by the employers, had not received workers’ compensation benefits.
Ultimately, the difficulties with administration of workers’ compensation benefits mean that workers and their families bear the brunt of the financial difficulties caused by work-related accidents.
Work Accidents & Injuries are Often Preventable
The unfortunate reality is that work injuries and accidents are almost always preventable. The most common cause of work-related accidents is improper training or unsafe work practices. The income disparity created by work injuries is very real, and we must make changes in how our workforce operates in this country. Workplace safety always starts and ends with one entity: the employer.
More: Are Fatal Work Injuries in the U.S. Down?
Were You Injured in a Work Accident?
Please share your workplace injury stories. OSHA needs to hear about your financial difficulties after a work accident. Visit http://www.dol.gov/osha/report/.
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