A workplace injury results in a variety of costs, including lost productivity, insurance claims and medical expenses, worker's compensation, new worker training, but they also cost the worker, too.
How do injuries cost the worker?
Each state's worker compensation system was intended to have employer-provided insurance reimburse workers for lost wages and provide medical coverage. However, legislation is gradually shifting the burden of coverage away from employers to the state, private health insurance, the federal government, and ultimately the injured worker. Based on a 2012 article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine on the shifting costs for occupational injury and illness, worker's compensation still covers roughly 21% of costs. However, the worker is saddled with a whopping 50% of the burden.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a worker earns 15% less over the 10 years following a workplace injury than they would have had they avoided the injury, with an average of $31,000 over that time. Shockingly, this figure applies to workers that receive worker compensation.
Much of the problem lies in the fact that injured workers either do not apply for worker's compensation or receive very little in response to their request. Compensation for low-income and immigrant workers is even lower..
Who Does This Cost Shift Benefit?
It goes without saying that those who benefit from moving the burden of injury costs to the injured worker and social insurance programs benefit unsafe employers. Unsafe employers bear less risk for not properly training and equipping workers for their jobs. The obvious course of action is to hold these employers accountable for their violations.
Unfortunately, federal regulators do not have the manpower to investigate every workplace to ensure they are providing the necessary training and equipment. So it is up to employees to bring unsafe work practices to the attention of OSHA. However, before you reach out to OSHA you should discuss any safety concerns you might have with your employer. If your employer does nothing to address these concerns, they may be in violation of the General Duty Clause, which states that your employer is required to protect workers from all workplace hazards as best as possible.
Your Whistleblower Rights
You may wonder what risks you might be taking by contacting OSHA or approaching your employer about safety concerns you may have at your workplace. If you bring them up, your employer may punish you in some form for addressing a concern they prefer to ignore.
So what concerns should you have with regard to addressing what you consider a hazardous workplace situation? In a word: none. Workers are protected from their employers by Whistleblower Rights. If you bring up safety concerns, contact OSHA, or in some way act to protect yourself and others on the job, your employer cannot retaliate in any manner, such as firing, reduced or withheld wages, or any other form of punishment.
If you'd like to learn more about worker compensation and who bears the brunt when workers are injured, read OSHA's informational document Adding Inequality to Injury: The Costs of Failing to Protect Workers on the Job.