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Third Installment of New York Times Article on Workers' Compensation is Weakest Yet

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Yada Yada Yada! The final installment of the NY Times series on the New York Workers’ Compensation system is much like the first installment – a regurgitation of anecdotal pablum with quotes from disgruntled  workers and employers.  Again – a major disappointment after an 18 month investigation of the entire state-wide system. 

Where are the stories about the overwhelming majority of injured workers who sail through the system with few problems receiving all the benefits they deserve?  I guess such facts don’t sell papers!

It seems that the reporters who wrote this series never truly understood the full extent of the mission of the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board as an administrative agency processing hundreds of thousands of individual cases at any one time.  They never truly understood that the Workers’ Compensation system was not created in a vacuum – and that, believe it or not – society actually benefits by having a little less safety in the workplace.

Professor Robert Smith, the distinguished labor economist at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, once taught me that employers are competitively better off paying workers’ compensation premiums rather than trying to make their workplaces as safe as possible.  The cost of assuring 100% safety in the workplace would be astronomical and almost certainly impossible.  The cost of assuring 90% safety in the workplace would be prohibitive. 

Before employers ever went down that Utopian road, they would make a fast dash to ChinaTherefore, a sometimes imperfect, but  far more often successful workers’ compensation system in New York is not only necessary – but desired.

How many of the grumbling employers quoted in the final installment employ "safety managers" in their plants? It seems that the "Safety Bucks" games that some employers use are a way of giving lip service to true worker safety.  Unfortunately, the New York Times has  given similar lip service to an important topic while venturing into the New York Post realm of reporting with silly tag-lines like "Meatball Justice". 

 

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