The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was passed 45 years ago in 1970, but the number of on-the-job injuries is still dangerously high. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that roughly 4,500 workers are killed in the workplace annually. That’s not all — the BLS estimates that employers record approximately 3 million serious occupational injuries and illnesses each year on legally mandated logs, but it’s likely that many more go undocumented.
Recorded injuries vary greatly, including wounds, amputations, back injuries and any other issues requiring more extensive treatment than first aid. Roughly half of all recorded injuries require employees to take at least one day off work to heal, necessitate a job transfer or call for the person to be placed under a work restriction for recovery.
Long-Term Impact of Workplace Injuries
Many chronic illnesses are not discovered until years after exposure has ended, so they’re not properly identified as work-related. Studies have estimated that approximately 50,000 deaths in the U.S. each year are caused by past workplace exposure to hazardous substances like asbestos. Comparatively, in 2013, around 33,000 people in our country died in traffic crashes.
The total price tag attached to on-the-job injuries are vast. The National Safety Council estimates the cost of fatal and non-fatal work injuries at $198 billion for 2012. Many people assume workers’ compensation covers all out-of-pocket costs for injured employees, but it’s not quite so cut and dry. In theory, employer-sponsored workers’ compensation insurance does pay for lost wages, all medical expenses and rehabilitation costs, but it’s not always that simple.
A recent study of employees in New Mexico receiving workers’ compensation benefits for wage loss caused by workplace injuries found that recipients lose an average of 15 percent of their earning potential in the 10 years following their injury. Additionally, family caregivers are often required to reduce their own work hours or quit their jobs entirely to care for the injured person. This can be detrimental to the income of families who are already struggling to get by. The psychological impact of earning lower wages can decrease the injured person’s self-esteem, cause a strained relationship with their spouse and make them feel socially isolated.
Check back new month for part two of this series, “How Work Structure in U.S Puts Workers at Risk.”
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