Thursday, July 25, 2013

Incredibly Contentious

Don't retaliate against workers who make a claim for benefits and don't offer bonuses or prizes for meeting safety goals if doing so can result in deterring the reporting of injuries.

That's what the US OSHA office is telling employers around the country as it steps up efforts against employers it feels are letting too many injuries go unreported.

The Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago reported that while the number of workplace injuries over the past 10 years has declined by 31%, the number of lawsuits against employers alleging retaliation against injured workers has doubled.

As far as OSHA is concerned, that means that too many employers are discouraging injured workers from making claims, which is illegal.

And OSHA's position is that work injuries are not usually the caused by careless workers, but that unsafe work conditions are the predominant cause.

The agency reports that for private-sector employers, the number of injuries involving missed work days, job restrictions or transfers to different chores dropped to 1.8 per 100 full-time workers in 2011 from 2.6 in 2003.

The article notes that while some of that decline is attributable to better safety, it is also noted that changes in work comp laws making qualification for benefits (we like to call that "reform" in our industry parlance) is also responsible.

The combination, according to the well known John Burton, economist and emeritus professor at Rutgers University who has studied work place injuries and workers' compensation most of his professional life, has resulted in a 33% decline in the average cost of insurance from a high in 1994 of $2.67 per $100 of payroll, down to $1.79 last year.

The WSJ article includes some vignettes on questionable "safety initiatives" at some companies, and cites a US Government Accountability Office report in 2009 that concluded that more than a third of health practitioners surveyed were asked by company managers to provide treatment that wouldn't necessarily require a formal injury or illness report.

Burton's sometime scholastic partner, Emily Spieler, a law professor at Northeastern University and former head of the West Virginia workers' comp program, however, got the closing quote.

She says that despite the original intent of workers' compensation to ameliorate legal costs and delays in work injury disputes, "it's become incredibly contentious, to nobody's benefit."

Maybe society has just become too spoiled. Perhaps because there just aren't enough 100 year old people around any longer who remember what it was like when work comp first came around such that employers and employees have forgotten what it was like before workers' compensation was in place.

Which is why I think sometimes that we should just suspend workers' compensation for a few years to allow people to realize just how good they have it with the system in place, rather than without.


  1. If contentious was the only problem I am sure that lawyers could respond as they are in "the business." What is incredible is that the system is so dilatory that cases can be pending for over a decade without resolution, ie. settlement or trial. Summary, remedial and efficient is no longer the practice of workers' compensation. Both discovery abuses and the collateral interests, ie. providers, lead the pack in slowing the present workers' compensation program to a standstill. Unfortunately, such tactics lead to nowhere,

  2. If you want to see "what it would be like" without workers' compensation, consider the Interstate railroad workers covered under FELA, (as opposed to government workers covered under FECA), and Masters and crewmembers of vessels covered under the Jones Act.