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Published On: Fri, Jul 31st, 2015

Workplace Injuries Worsen Economic Situations of Americans

Workplace injuries and illnesses have always been something the American worker has faced. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “the incidence rate of nonfatal occupation injury and illness cases requiring days away from work to recuperate was 109.4 cases per 10,000 full-time workers in 2013.” This number has decreased as compared to the 2012 rate of 111.8.

While this may seem to be low numbers – almost statistically insignificant – the economic aspect tells a different story. Based on the same report, there were 1,162, 210 days workers who had to take time off. This includes workers from the private sector, as well as the state and local government.

Numbers are one thing, but personal experience is another story. In the past, the idea of workplace injuries was more connected to industries that are hazardous by nature. Some examples are mines and factories where heavy – and potentially harmful – equipment is used.

However, according to premises liability attorney Anthony D. Castelli, the reality today is that many seemingly innocuous workplaces can be just as hazardous to individuals.

Take for example the story of McDonald’s workers who have gotten burns because of the pressure to make food faster. When these incidents occurred, they were told to put mustard on the burns, which is an inappropriate treatment. Aside from mustard, the workers have been told to use mayonnaise, butter, or ketchup. (The Mayo Clinic recommends cool water, moisturizer like aloe vera lotion or gel for first aid.)

photo Brandon Jones

photo Brandon Jones

In April, three construction workers were killed when scaffolding collapsed at a high-rise site in downtown Raleigh. Nothing was done by the employer.

These incidents represent only a fraction of workplace-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities and point to another serious implication: economics.

Workers who get injured or ill because of a workplace incident will most likely have to take time off to get well. Looking at the statistics the BLS has provided, 1,162, 210 workers have had to take time off in 2013. Assuming that the average time to recuperate is one week – and we’re being conservative here – that means a significant loss of income for the worker.

Worse, some employers do not take responsibility for the incident even if it happened in their premises.

Take the case of Terry Cawthorn, a nurse of 20 years at the Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. While she – and coworkers – has testified to the reliability of their employer, when Cawthorn suffered a back injury, the hospital administration washed their hands of responsibility. They didn’t – don’t – acknowledge that the injury happened in the workplace even if statistics show that nursing employees are more prone to debilitating injuries due to their tasks, which include lifting and moving patients.

Not only do workers like Cawthorn lose income by taking days off, but they also have to face medical bills that they may not be able to afford in the first place.

All this leads to the conclusion that workplace injuries contribute significantly to the detriment of Americans’ economic situations. It’s adding insult to injury – and quite literally, too.

But what about workers’ compensation? Shouldn’t that help with the costs?

The bad news: states have been cutting back on the budget so much so that injured workers receive practically nothing.

As bleak as the situation for workers may seem, there might be hope in the horizon in the form of a report by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). The report is the result of studying the current state of workplace injuries, compensation, and income inequality. The conclusion is that the most effective solution is to make greater efforts to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.

In the meantime, while bureaucracy does what it does, injured workers have the option consulting a lawyer specializing in workplace injuries to get what is due them, or they can merely sit back and be satisfied with the status quo.

Guest Author: Lolita Di

On the DISPATCH: Headlines  Local  Opinion

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