The 5 Inequalities of Failing to Protect Workers on the Job

Though the OSH Act of 1970 was implemented decades ago, worker injuries and illnesses are still unacceptably high.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 4,500 workers are killed on the job each year. This is in addition to nearly three million serious occupational injuries and illnesses reported annually on legally mandated logs and countless other work-related injuries that go unreported for a variety of reasons, including a fear of losing their jobs or not knowing their rights as employees under the law.

And the toll this is taking on workers, families, and taxpayers is eerily shocking.

Here are 5 inequalities you may have been unaware of that result when employers fail to protect workers on the job.

1. Workers and their families typically bear the majority of costs when workers are injured.

Unfortunately, the workers’ compensation systems in each state have not been doing their jobs. Typically, the payments issued by worker’s comp only cover a small fraction (about 21 percent) of the lost wages and medical costs of work injuries and illnesses.

On the other hand, workers and their families pay for about 50% of these costs out of their own pockets. This seems especially unfair when fault of injury or illness is primarily due to safety program weaknesses and/or a lack-of employer oversight.

2. Workers earn less over the 10 years following an injury.

A recent study found that workers in New Mexico who receive workers’ compensation benefits for wage loss caused by work-related injuries lose an average of 15 percent of the earnings they would have been expected to earn over the 10 years following an injury.

Even with worker compensation benefits, injured workers’ incomes are, on average, almost $31,000 lower over 10 years than if they had not been injured. Imagine the income loss of those who don’t even enter the worker compensation system!

3. Taxpayers subsidize high hazard employers.

Taxpayers shoulder about 16 percent of the costs of worker injuries through taxpayer-supported safety-net programs.

So, instead of businesses investing in safety and then shouldering the majority of the costs when their employees are injured, accountability is unduly disbursed through costs to hard working members of society.

4. There are several less tangible effects of workplace injuries.

Most of the costs considered when a work-related injury or illness occurs are purely from a financial perspective. However, workplace injuries can have more intangible effects that are just as, if not more, damaging:

  • diminished self-esteem and self-confidence
  • increased stress between spouses, children and other family members
  • strained relations with friends, colleagues and supervisors
  • decreased quality of life

These indirect costs can translate into tangible economic costs, including lower wages.

5. Stagnant wages have forced some wage earners into holding two or more jobs.

When an employee who has been injured at work can no longer continue the same line-of-work, or can only do so to a limited extent, many have to turn to holding two or more jobs to support the family.

Longer work days negatively affect family life, but they also lead to worker fatigue and increase the risk of both work-related and non-work-related injuries, potentially continuing the vicious cycle.

As you can see, the tolls and inequalities that result from workplace injuries are extensive and need to be mitigated.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) believes the best and most effective way to do this is through greater efforts to prevent work injuries and illnesses. What better way to reduce the costs associated with work-related injuries than to stop them from occurring in the first place?

Employee safety needs to become not only a priority, but the only way things are done. Safety Management Systems (SMS) within organizations need to be thoroughly evaluated and improved where needed. This would include changing organization structures, establishing accountability, and developing effective policies and procedures. Check out this free safety training if you are interested in learning how to effectively manage safety within an organization.

For more information regarding the real costs of workplace injuries, read the Department of Labor’s (DOL) report here.

What other costs and inequalities exist when it comes to workplace injuries? What do you think is the best way to decrease them? Comment below!