Workers’ compensation and "income inequality"

According to a recent Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) report, it is the workers, their families and taxpayers - not workers' compensation insurance providers - that bear most of the costs of worksite injuries and deaths.

The problem of workplace injuries

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that roughly 4,500 workplace fatalities and three million " serious occupational injuries" are reported each year. Serious occupational injuries are those requiring treatment beyond first aid and include injuries such as wounds, back injuries and those requiring amputation. It is likely that many more worksite accidents are not reported and it is estimated that approximately 50,000 deaths each year are attributable to past workplace exposure to hazardous materials such as asbestos, silica and benzene.

Cost to workers, families

In its report, Adding inequality to injury: the costs of failing to protect workers on the job, OSHA asserts that for many people, a worksite injury contributes to the problem of income inequality: "they force working families out of the middle class and into poverty, and keep the families of lower-wage workers from entering the middle class." Indeed, the 10-year earning capacity is 15 percent less after an injury, even with workers' comp benefits.

The impact is greater on lower-wage workers and situations where the injured worker is the primary breadwinner. Often family caregivers must reduce their work hours in order to take care of an injured family member. Other injuries to workers include damage to self-esteem and self-confidence, increased marital and familial discord, and damaged relationships with friends, coworkers and supervisors.

The economic cost of workplace injuries

Roughly 50 percent of recorded injuries result in at least the loss of one day of work, job transfer or work restriction. The National Safety Council estimates the costs of workplace injuries, both fatal and non-fatal, at $198 billion in 2012.

Cost to taxpayers

According to OSHA, employers bear only 21 percent of financial costs of workplace injuries and illnesses. Taxpayers shoulder 16 percent through federal, state and local social safety-net programs. Out of pocket and private health insurance make up the remaining 63 percent.

The solution

According to OSHA, the solution to the problem is to eliminate workplace injuries and illnesses. Eliminating the injuries and illnesses necessarily eliminates the suffering of employees and lost income and benefits. Additionally, barriers posed by state-bases workers' compensation programs to obtaining adequate benefits need to be removed.

Speak to a workers' comp attorney

Each year, three million workers are seriously injured and thousands more killed in work-related accidents. Fewer than 40 percent actually receive any workers' comp benefits at all, choosing instead to rely on Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans' Benefits or private insurance rather than workers' comp. If you have been injured in a work-related accident, contact a workers' compensation attorney to learn more about the benefits to which you are entitled.