April 29, 2004

Dying at Work, part one

Is the American workplace more dangerous today than in the recent past?

According to a report released by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, workplace deaths in Massachusetts rose by 65% in 2003 to a total of 81 people. Naturally, the report focuses on systemic reductions in safety enforcement at both the federal and state levels. No argument there. But at LynchRyan, we begin with the premise that the ultimate control of a company's destiny lies within. More than any other single factor, we believe that the management philosophy, the commitment to the work and the workforce, determines whether there will be serious injuries or even death. Enforcement all too often comes only after serious injuries have occurred.

So here are some questions relating to the relationship between the increase in fatalities and what's going on inside company management:

1. In the continuing tough economic climate, many jobs have been lost. Despite reducing jobs, many employers have not reduced the workload. As a result, fewer workers are being asked to do more work. They are under more pressure from hour to hour. They may be working longer hours. In addition, workers who remain in jobs while co-workers are let go often suffer from significant emotional stress. Is this increased stress on workers a significant factor in the increase in fatal injuries?

2. When employers reduce spending, training is often one of the first things to go. Are workers being asked to perform dangerous tasks without the proper training and safety equipment? Are employers relying on low-skilled labor to handle complex jobs? Are employers in such a hurry to "get the work done" that they fail to pay attention to unsafe conditions and unsafe workplace practices?

3. With cuts in federal and state enforcement efforts, employers may feel that the likelihood of being inspected -- and cited -- for violations has become increasingly remote. Like drivers on an unpatrolled highway, who may drive well beyond the speed limit, are employers taking chances on safety because they don't think anyone is paying attention?

4. Jobs are hard to come by in this economy. Are workers putting up with unsafe conditions out of fear of losing their jobs? Is the tough economy an opportunity for managers to exploit workers?

There are no simple answers to these questions. But good management understands the importance of keeping workers safe, healthy, and productive. It never makes good business sense -- or ethical sense, for that matter -- to scrimp on safety just because no one may be watching. Any company's most valuable asset is a skilled workforce. The realities of a tough economy may require reductions in the workforce. But prudent employers will remain sensitive to the strains and stresses of these reductions and take steps to support remaining workers, helping them to perform their jobs safely. From the perspective of good business practices, nothing else makes sense.

In part two, we will analyze the AFL-CIO data in detail.



My husband is an injured worker. He has brain damage and liver damage from working with 111trichloroethane on the job as a linemen for TXU Electric. We have PROOF that the company failed to provide respirators for thier employees. We have PROOF that TXU tried to intimidate us out of filing a claim. We have PROOF that his employer retaliated against us for filing a worker's comp. claim. We have PROOF that OSHA refused to act on or investigate TXU for not providing respirators. None of this matters to the Worker's Comp. system. There is no justice in Worker's Comp.


Deana Dutcher

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience, Deana, although we are sorry to hear how poorly things are working out for you and your husband. Your state insurance Bureau might be a place for you to turn to get some help. Most state workers compensation authorities explain thier state's worker rights, benefits, and grievance procedures, and that might provide some relief. Some states also provide worker ombudsmen to help injured workers with any problems; other states have avenues for mediation or other assistance for dispute resolution. Here is a link to All 50 states homepages and workers compensation agencies that will help you to find the appropriate state agency, and here is a site that provides helpful information and links to address injured worker concerns.
If all else fails, you might consult an attorney, but be aware that unless there are extenuating circumstances (such as if the employer knew about the danger or actually intended to harm the worker) workers compensation is generally deemed to be the "exclusive remedy" for work injuries. Retaliatory discharge such as you've described can sometimes be the basis for a successful challenge - most state legislation addresses retaliatory discharge.

For many people, the workers compensation system works. If they have a work injury, they get the medical care and the wage replacement they need until they recover and get back to work. But that doesn't mean that everyone's case is problem free. Some employers don't provide the safe workplaces they should; some employers don't treat employees fairly; some physicians aren't good; some employees aren't honest. Here at Lynch Ryan, we do our best to help employers learn that treating workers with fairness and dignity is not only the right thing to do, in the long run, it's also the most cost effective method. We strongly believe in helping employers work to the goal of building a zero-injury workplace - we simply don't think people should get hurt at work. We'd like to hear less stories like the one you relate. We wish you the best of luck and sincerely hope you are able to find the help that you need.


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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on April 29, 2004 3:16 PM.

Workers' Memorial Day - April 28, 2004 was the previous entry in this blog.

Wrongful Death Accountability Act is the next entry in this blog.

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