Category Archives: Work Injuries

Workers’ Memorial Day…and the Decline in Worker Safety

Last week (April 28) was Workers’ Memorial Day, remembering and honoring all those workers who have been injured or killed in the workplace.  While we’ve come a long way in our country toward protecting workers, current politics and politicians are actively working to undermine a century of progress.

I encourage everyone to read the following informative post on the current statistics of workplace injuries and the effort to encourage less protection for workers: The Health and Safety of America’s Workers Is At Risk.  

The author, Kathleen Rest, provided a detailed list of the Trump administrations intention on “rolling back public protections and prioritizing industry over the public interest”:

  • Right off the bat, the president issued his two-for-one executive order requiring agencies to rescind two regulations for each new one they propose. So, to enact new worker health and safety protections, two others would have to go.

  • OSHA has delayed implementation or enforcement of several worker protection rules that address serious health risks and were years in the making—i.e., silica, the cause of an irreversible and debilitating lung disease, and beryllium, a carcinogen and also the source of a devastating lung disease.

  • OSHA has left five advisory and committees to languish—the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health; the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee; the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health; the Federal Advisory Council; and the Maritime Advisory Committee—thus depriving the agency of advice from independent experts and key stakeholders. Earlier this week, a number of groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Acosta asking him to stop sidelining the advice of independent experts.

  • President Trump signed a resolution that permanently removed the ability of OSHA to cite employers with a pattern of record keeping violations related to workplace injuries and illnesses. Yes, permanently, because it was passed under the Congressional Review Act. And Secretary Acosta recently seemed hesitant to commit not to rescind OSHA’s rule to improve electronic recordkeeping of work-related injuries and illnesses.

  • Having failed in efforts to cut some worker health and safety protections and research in his FY18 budget proposal, the president is going at it again with his FY19 proposal. He is calling for the elimination of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and OSHA’s worker safety and health training program, Susan Harwood Training Grants. There is, however, a tiny bit of good news for workers in President Trump’s proposed budget for OSHA; it includes a small (2.4 percent) increase for enforcement, as well as a 4.2 percent increase for compliance assistance. Of note, employers much prefer compliance assistance over enforcement activities.

  • The president’s budget also proposes to cut research by 40 percent at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)—the only federal agency solely devoted to research on worker health and safety—and eliminate the agency’s educational research centers, agriculture, forestry and fishing research centers and external research programs.

  • He has also proposed taking NIOSH out of CDC, perhaps combining it later with various parts of the National Institutes of Health. Never mind that NIOSH was established by statute as an entity by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

  • The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has also jumped on the regulatory reform bandwagon. The agency has indicated its intent to review and evaluate its regulations protecting coal miners from black lung disease. This at a time when NIOSH has identified the largest cluster of black lung disease ever reported.

  • EPA actions are also putting workers at risk. Late last year, the EPA announced that it will revise crucial protections for more than two million farmworkers and pesticide applicators, including reconsidering the minimum age requirements for applying these toxic chemicals. Earlier in the year, the agency overruled its own scientists when it decided not to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, thus perpetuating its serious risk to farmworkers, not to mention their children and users of rural drinking water. And the agency has delayed implementation of its Risk Management Plan rule to prevent chemical accidents for nearly two years.

  • The Department of Interior is following up on an order from President Trump to re-evaluate regulations put into place by the Obama administration in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010, which killed 11 offshore workers and created the largest marine oil spill in United States’ drilling history.

  • And then there’s a new proposal at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that seeks to privatize the pork inspection system and remove any maximum limits on line speeds in pig slaughter plants. Meat packing workers in pork slaughter houses already have higher injury and illness rates than the national average. Increasing line speeds only increases their risk.


Scary times.  I fear we may be remembering more and more injured workers moving forward.

Federal “Takeover” of Work Comp?

State workers’ compensation laws are facing increased scrutiny from the federal government.  As reported by NPR, the U.S. Labor Department is exploring the idea of further oversight of state-run workers’ compensation systems.  The full Labor Department report can be found here.

Traditionally, beginning with Wisconsin in 1911, individual states enacted, amended, and ran their own workers’ compensation system.  These systems certainly shared the similar overall framework of the “grand bargain” of work comp: an inability to sue an employer in exchange for defined benefits without proviing fault.  Within this framework, though, the state-led process allowed each state to tailor its approach in line with the industries of their state and particular legislative goals.

However, in the past decade or so, state legislative enactments around the country have significantly reduced (and in some cases, slashed) worker’s compensation benefits for injured workers.  A deep dive on the effect of these efforts was revealed in a series of stories by ProPublica and NPR.  The new Labor Department report echoes the refrain of these stories–indicating:

Despite the sizable cost of workers’ compensation, only a small portion of the costs of occupational injury and illness is borne by the employer. 

Costs are inappropriately shifted to the worker, their families, and the government (through other benefit programs).

Furthermore, with lowering costs on employers for workplace injuries, those employers–especially “high hazard employers”–have less incentives for safety or preventing injuries in the first place.  

As such, the Labor Department suggested the need to explore federal oversight or minimum federal standards for state workers’ compensation laws.  It even suggests the potential to reconvene a national commission–last seen in the 1970s–to study state workers’ compensation systems.  Any of these proposals would be major sea changes to the traditional state-led approach.

Whether any of these proposals will move forward is unknown, but one fact remains: based on legislative attempts to reduce injured workers’ benefits, the state-led workers’ compensation systems face increased scrutiny.   Pushed too far against workers, these laws face constitutional challenges–and ultimately the threat of federal oversight or takeover.

 

 

Seven Seconds!

According to a recent article by CBS news, on average a worker is hurt in our country every seven seconds!  The article, based primarily on a report from a major worker’s compensation insurance company (Travelers), reveals that injuries happen in all professions and to all ages and types of workers.

Interestingly, according to the article (What Happens Every 7 Seconds: A Workplace Injury), about one-quarter of work injuries occur in an employee’s initial year of work.

WIth this volume of injuries across all industries, disputes are bound to occur over the existence of the injury, the extent of a worker’s disability, and whether permanent limitations are necessary.  Disputes also are endemic in a system primarily involving for-profit insurance companies (as well as rising medical costs).

The key is that every seven seconds a work injury happens–meaning every seven seconds a claim could be denied and attorney involvement required.