WORKPLACE INJURIES ON THE RISE BUT WORKPLACE SAFETY IS NOT

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In 2015, 4,836 workers were killed on the job in the United States.  That means, on average, 13 workers die because of injuries on the job every day in the United States.  This is more than the numbers were in 2013 and 2014.  Further, an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases.  This means that, in effect, 150 workers die each and every day from hazardous working conditions.

Older workers are at a greater risk. Thirty-five percent of all fatalities occurred in workers age 55 or older, and workers 65 or older have three times the risk of dying on the job as younger workers.

Temporary workers are at an even higher risk of injury.  Temporary workers often receive insufficient training or are inexperienced with how to protect themselves on the job site, but don’t want to complain about the lack of training for fear of losing their job. Temporary workers tend to be younger, less educated and disproportionately consist of minority workers, many of whom might be immigrant workers, according to researchers with the University of Massachusetts.  At the same time, temporary workers are employed in some of the country’s most hazardous jobs, including waste recycling, fish processing and construction.

A recent Center for Public Integrity feature on the plight of temporary workers reported, “there’s little incentive for host employers to rigorously train and supervise temp workers because staffing agencies carry their [workers’] comp insurance. If an agency has a high number of injuries within its workforce, it — not the host employer — is penalized with higher premiums.”

As shocking as these numbers are, the AFL-CIO says that under reporting of work site injuries is very common.  While 3.8 million on the job injuries were reported, it is believed that the true number of work related injuries was between 7.6 million and 11.4 million.  Employers have various incentives to under report, including avoiding the risk of increased inspections from OSHA, higher insurance premiums, and lower chances of getting plum government contracts.

The economic impact of these injuries is enormous – estimated at $250 billion to $370 billion every year. And even though workers may receive compensation benefits, it generally is not enough to actually make up for what is lost.  After receiving workers’ compensation benefits, injured workers’ incomes are, on average, nearly $31,000 lower over 10 years than if they had not suffered an injury.

Further, the assault on worker’s rights is continuing and is likely to continue under the Trump administration.  Since 2003, legislators in 33 states have passed legislation reducing benefits or limiting eligibility. The benefits provided to workers vary widely across different states. For example, the maximum compensation for loss of an eye is $261,525 in Pennsylvania, but only $27,280 in Alabama.

Worker’s compensation claims are generally an employee’s exclusive remedy for an injury at work against the employer.  However, you may be able to sue someone who is not your employer if they are responsible for your injuries.   Someone who is not your employer, in this situation, is called a “third-party.”  Third parties are not immune from suit for their wrongful acts in the same way that employers are.  Some typical third parties are at fault drivers, product manufacturers, and premises owners.  Look for information about potential third party defendants in our future blogs.

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