By Vidhya Pathy, Associate Editor
Unintentional injury is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Incidence of workplace injury, a type of unintentional injury, has grown exponentially due to lax regulations: according to the National Safety Council, a worker is injured on the job every seven seconds. Furthermore, there is a significant body of research pointing to the link between workplace injury and financial insecurity. Clearly, it is imperative that federal and state governments strive to strengthen worker protections in order to decrease workplace injury and reduce poverty.
Workplace injury presents a large financial burden for employees, especially for those in the working class. A case study published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that in New Mexico, workers who were injured on the job earned 15% less in the following 10 years. It is estimated that over the course of a lifetime, non-disabling injuries will cost a worker $10,032. Disabling injuries will cost as much as $31,183. To add insult to injury, big businesses and insurance companies have been rolling back workers’ compensation policies under the guise of untenable cost. Legislators in Florida have cut back workers’ compensation benefits by 65% since 1994. The OSHA estimates that with all the “reforms” in place, a worker will have to foot a generous 50% of the bill for a workplace injury.
In an investigation conducted by NPR and ProPublica, analysts spoke with a tire plant worker named John Coffell, for whom a workplace injury meant eviction, both for him and his family. After damaging a disk in his back, his pay dropped substantially, and recent Oklahoma legislation had reduced workers’ compensation from $801 a week to $561 a week. This fall in economic support made it difficult for Mike Coffell to afford basic utilities and even his house. He had to send his children to stay with relatives, seeing them only on the weekends due to limited money for gas. Coffell and his wife are currently living off food stamps.
For people like John Coffell, stronger protections in the workplace would have made a huge difference. There are many ways to strengthen regulation, policies, and insurance financing, including greater funding for government oversight and workplace audits. Lowering caseloads and making it easier for whistleblowers to report workplace infractions would also help the American worker. Additionally, there must be stronger, bipartisan reinsurance policies in place to aid states in providing better compensation. Our generation is soon entering the workplace, and it would benefit us to take leadership on this issue; if not, we will likely succumb to the same fate as previous generations.