We’ve focused many times on this blog about workplace safety but within the last few weeks, there have been reports on the financial burdens workplace injuries are placing on injured employees and their families . PBS Newshour, NPR and the U. S. Dept. of Labor have all provided information on the changes in worker’s compensation laws in many states have caused significant problems for workers and their families. The lives of many families are changed not just because of the workplace injury but because many times these families face a significant drop in household income forcing many of them into poverty situations.
There are several other reasons in addition to state laws changing that are now preventing families to maintain an adequate lifestyle and be part of the working middle class. Some of those reasons include employers not complying with the congressional law written in the 1970s that mandated workplaces to be safe and hazard-free, the nature of work is changing into more temp jobs and independent contractors or with some workers not receiving the proper work classification so employers will not be required to pay into workers’ compensation, and temporary workers unwilling to file workers’ compensation claims because they fear staffing agencies or employers will reject them.
Business have had to watch expenses since the recession. Some have not been able to make any investments in new equipment or training that could help reduce injuries and accidents. Businesses have lobbied state lawmakers and other politicians on lowering workers comp. rates and benefits to help reduce costs. Lawmakers have complied because they were concerned about jobs going to other states or countries. Having lower workers compensation costs is also enticing to businesses wanting to locate, re-locate or expand.
But by reducing workers compensation costs and benefits, it has only shifted the responsibility to other social agencies that can assist employees and their families that need help because of workplace injuries. This provides little to no cost savings to state or federal budgets.
Both PBS Newshour and NPR have provided examples of workers who have been injured on the job. Nurses, a warehouse worker and an oil and gas worker tell their stories of how they are responsible for extensive costs related to their workplace injuries.
OSHA tells in the report the best alternative to all of this is to have safer workplaces. NPR reports nursing is the most dangerous job there is. They said it is much more dangerous than those of policemen. They did, though, report VA Hospitals have been trying to make the job safer after one director questioned the number of injuries nurses were having. They looked at different options. One they have been using is motorized lifts that help with patient lifting. The VA also has someone in charge of safety to help make improvements. Although nurses need to be reminded of using the lifts, it has definitely made a difference.
OSHA also reports workplace injuries and deaths has decreased but the rate is still higher in the U. S. in the construction industry as compared to the construction industry of the United Kingdom.
As we have reported many times on these blogs, safety committees help. Had the VA Hospitals used a safety committee with nurses on the committee, lift reminders may not be as numerous they are. The NPR article talks about the nurses needed to buy into the idea of the lifts. Employee buy-in occurs when they’re on safety committees and involved in making decisions.
This week we met with the safety committee at Skinner Diesel, a company we have recognized before on the blog. Instead of keeping the money he saves on workers’ compensation costs, Mike Skinner returns it to the workers. He has provided a greater return on profit sharing money and this year he provided an increase in insurance benefits for the workers. Imagine doing that as insurance costs are rising!
Mike appreciates the work of the committee and the effort that is being made by all workers at Skinner Diesel. It is everybody’s desire that all workers go home with the same number of fingers and toes they came with to work. Their accident/injury board also proves the safety committee works. For the last quarter, and this is not uncommon for every quarter, there are 0s for the number of accidents and injuries. If Mike Skinner, a small business owner, can do this for his company so can a lot of other small business owners.
We encourage management and labor leaders to change mindsets and work on this devastating problem impacting workers and their families.
We hope safety committees will be encouraged because they can have significant positive effects for both labor and management. It usually is one area both sides can agree on. If you’re wanting to improve the relationship at your workplace, starting a safety committee can be a good starting point. Safety committees work in both unionized and non-unionized facilities.
No one should have to worry about their family’s economic well-being because of a workplace injury. They are preventable. Ask Mike Skinner and the many other business owners that provide safe workplaces.