There is a bad trend in Wisconsin: Deaths on the job are on the rise.
Specifically, OSHA (on December 18, 2017) issued a release that there were five Wisconsin worker deaths in the last 22 days!:
- (Madison): On November 27, 2017, a 26 year old employee was abrasive blasting and cut his inner thigh (femoral artery) with the abrasive blasting nozzle. Reference OSHA’s Abrasive Blasting web page for safety and health related information regarding abrasive blasting operations.
- (Eau Claire): On December 1, 2017, a 60 year old employee working on a logging site was struck by a backing forwarder (skidder) machine. Reference OSHA’s Logging web page for safety and health related information regarding logging operations.
- (Milwaukee Area Office): On December 5, 2017, a 32 year old employee was struck in the head when an approx. 50 lb. part being worked on flew out of a CNC machine.
- On December 5, 2017, a 59 year old employee was struck in the abdomen by a piece of wood that had kicked back from a table saw. Reference OSHA’s Woodworking web page for safety and health related information regarding woodworking operations.
- (Milwaukee Area Office): On December 9th, 2017, a 36 year old employee was struck-by a materials van and pinned between the van and loading dock the van was being backed up to. Employers are encouraged to review dock areas to identify hazards and take necessary corrective actions. Reference OSHA’s e-Tool on Powered Industrial Trucks (Forklift) for information on dock safety.
These recent workplace deaths are in the same year as the devastating plant explosion in Cambria, Wisconsin, on May 31, 2017, resulting in the death of 5 workers and injuring many more. OSHA proposed a $1.8 million fine related to this fatal explosion.
Sadly, these workplace deaths are on the rise in our country as a whole. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its latest report on fatalities in the workplace, with data through 2016. Unfortunately, the number of fatalites is the highest ever since 2008. An informational chart can be found here.
While employers indicate there are ever-increasing safety measures at workplaces, accidents–even catastrophic ones–still happen. And they are happening with more frequency.
Under Wisconsin worker’s compensation law, there are no pain and suffering damages for those family members left behind by the deceased worker. A dependent (generally a surviving spouse or children under the age of 18) can bring a claim for death benefits–which are four times the worker’s annual earnings. This amount can be (and can feel) woefully inadequate following a worker’s death.
While workplace deaths in Wisconsin are occurring less frequently, the unfortunate reality is that they still happen. Workplace fatality statistics can be found here.
Another worker died recently while at work: Man Dies in Kaukauna Trench Collapse. It appears a man was working in a trench in Kaukauna when it collapsed.
These accidents are tragedies for everyone involved. And worker’s compensation is an inadequate remedy. Under the Worker’s Compensation Act, there are potential death benefits available to a deceased workers “dependents.” If a worker dies from a workplace incident, the death benefit is equal to four (4) times the worker’s annual earnings (subject to a cap). The insurance carrier also is responsible for burial expenses, currently up to $10,000.
The law also defines who is a statutory “dependent” eligible for the death benefits–generally a live-in surviving spouse or surviving child/children under the age of 18. However, the laws related to dependent death benefits are incredibly ambiguous and frequently litigated, as the possibility exists for other types of dependents to make claims (including non-live-in spouses, disabled children over 18, parents, and other familty members). It is wise to consult with an experienced worker’s compensation attorney if there are issues regarding who is/is not a dependent of an deceased worker under Wisconsin law.
If there are no dependents of a deceased worker, the insurance carrier pays the death benefits amount to the State Fund.
Today’s post comes from guest author Kristina Brown Thompson from The Jernigan Law Firm.
Earlier this year, North Carolina OSHA released a report stating that job-related deaths were decreasing. In fact, the report stated there were only 35 workplace deaths in North Carolina in 2012. However, as we mentioned in our earlier blog from this year (North Carolina Workplace Deaths Lower in 2012), these statistics appeared artificially low.
The study conducted by the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health (“National COSH”) entitled “North Carolina Workers Dying for a Job,” released in 2012 states that there were at least 83 work-related deaths in 2011 but NC OSHA only reported 53 work-related deaths for that year. Why the disparity? For one, NC OSHA’s report does not account for many fatalities due to car accidents. NC OSHA’s report also doesn’t include fatalities that occur as a result of workplace violence or fatalities suffered by the self-employed.
While it’s reassuring to hear reports that work-related deaths are on the decline, this doesn’t reflect the big picture. A report from the AFL-CIO (“Death on the Job Report”) shows that workplace fatalities vary widely by state (from 12.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers in North Dakota to 1.2 fatalities per 100,000 in New Hampshire). When considering the reported work-related fatalities for your state, keep in mind that this is just a fraction of the true fatality figures.
There is, however, one common underlying trend: Hispanic workers and young workers are disproportionately at a higher risk for job fatalities. For this reason, adequate training and safety protocols are critically important. And, sadly, many of the fatalities in 2011 were largely preventable. The two top reasons for workplace fatalities in 2011 were falls from elevated heights (20%) and machinery hazards (16%). With proper safety measures, those deaths should have been avoided.