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WORKPLACE SAFETY: Facts About Workers Compensation

Updated on February 24, 2014
Worker Comp claims can be avoided through good workplace safety practices
Worker Comp claims can be avoided through good workplace safety practices | Source

Workers Compensation

The workplace can be a dangerous place where many workplace injuries and illnesses occur every year. According to the United States Department of Labor statistics, roughly 3 million non-fatal workplace related injuries occurred in 2012.

Though there has been a downward trend in the incidents of workplace injuries in the last decade, these figures are still high given that this represents around 3% of the workforce. The cost of workplace injuries and illnesses is also high and was estimated to be about US$ 200 billion in the year 2012.

Looking at the figures from worker compensation insurance claims for the same year, we find that the claims are increasing and this has led to the increase in the premiums charged by insurance companies. This shows that an accident or injury at work resulting from poor workplace safety will cost the company dearly in workers compensation claims.

The recently amended workers compensation law has included work-related stress as a workplace illness. This move will clearly increase the cost to the employers given that it is a grey area and not so easy to define.

machine entanglement is a common workplace accident
machine entanglement is a common workplace accident | Source

What is Workers Compensation?

This is a system of claiming benefit from the workplace injuries and illnesses that a worker may encounter in the course of their work. The workers compensation claims and benefits accrue to the employee for any injury or illnesses that occur when performing their functions be it within or outside of the premises. For example, if an employee is sent out to repair a customer’s equipment and gets injured in the process, he is entitled to compensation despite the fact that the injury occurred outside of the work premises.

Most jurisdictions have enacted laws to cover workplace injuries and illnesses. These laws have been interpreted in different ways by the courts but there are common denominators across the board. The general principle regarding workers compensation is that the worker cannot be blamed for carelessness unless it was as a result of intoxication. Another exception apart from intoxication is if the worker intentionally inflicted injury on themselves in the hope of getting compensation.

Compensation is also given if the workplace conditions aggravate an already existing bodily condition. If, for example, a worker has a pre-existing respiratory condition and the workplace environment has pollutants that aggravate the condition, he may be entitled to workers compensation. This is because the pollutants have caused his illness to progress to a worse state than it is already in.

Exertion injuries qualify for workmans compensation
Exertion injuries qualify for workmans compensation | Source

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Workplace Accidents

Despite the best efforts of employers to ensure that workplace safety guaranteed for their employees, accidents occur which may injure or cause illnesses to the worker. Workplace accidents are a costly affair that must be avoided at all costs. This is because the costs to the employer and employee alike are enormous.

Employers incur costs of lost productivity due to the absence of workers from the workplace, not to mention the actual monetary costs of the workers’ compensation. Employees who are not working because of workplace injuries or illnesses lose a source of livelihood. This loss cannot be accurately replaced by the compensation they are paid because there is an intrinsic benefit from having a job which endows a human being with a sense of self-worth.

Workplace safety laws and regulations such as OSHA are meant to ensure that accidents do not occur in the working environment in the first place. Any compensation that is given to the worker is like a consolation token and should be the exception and not the norm. Many of the laws and regulations that have been enacted over the years have helped mitigate against the occurrence of work-related incidents. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, there has been a downward trend in the incidences of workplace injuries and illness over the last decade.

Common Workplace Injuries

The work environment can be a dangerous place and measure should always be taken to prevent them. Workplace injuries are caused by a variety of factors and can be categorized into general categories:

  • Exertion injuries occur when the worker is either pulling or pushing objects in the course of the work
  • Automobile accidents in vehicles owned by the employer are common especially for employees whose work involves use driving
  • Slippage can occur if safety guidelines are not adhered to by the employee or employer
  • Falling from heights such as ladders can result in very serious injuries to the head or spine
  • Falling objects such as tools that have been carelessly placed on shelves can lead to head injuries if protective gear is not worn
  • Repetitive motion accidents happen when the muscle is subjected to routine actions in the course of work. Employee are advised to rotate workers between tasks to prevent these kind of accidents
  • Machine injuries resulting from entanglement with moving parts is common in many workplace environments

What does a worker do if they are injured at work?

How does one make an accident claim? When a worker is injured or falls ill at work, there are several steps that they should take to claim compensation. These steps vary slightly depending on the jurisdiction, but follow a common pattern. These include:

  • Notification of the injury to the employer. This is the first step where the worker must immediately inform his employer that the injury has occurred. In many places, the injury or illness must be reported within 30 days
  • Recording the incident must be done in the appropriate forms which has to be within one year of the injury. The purpose of filling this forms is to protect the rights of the injured worker in case of litigation and also for insurance purposes
  • Claim processing is carried out based on the information filled in the form. If the details are accurate and meet the provisions of the appropriate legislation and policies, the claim is granted. If the claim is not accepted for not meeting the requirements, further information may be sought and an appeal submitted within a year

The kind of injuries that require reporting are:

  • Injuries that result in the employee missing a day from work
  • Injuries that require the change of duties for more than a day
  • Injuries that result in the permanent disability such as loss of limbs (amputation)
  • Injuries that result in hospitalization or prescription of medication that goes beyond normal first aid

Principles of Workers Compensation Programs

All worker compensation schemes around the world in general have a few guiding principles that are similar to each other. These guiding principles are:

  • No fault principle means that all workers are eligible for benefits irrespective of which party is at fault
  • Collective responsibility of industry players to fund the compensation of all workers within the industry
  • Immunity from lawsuits amongst the participants of the compensation program. This means no lawsuit will be filed by employers or employees against each other as long as they participants in the program
  • Fair compensation for the injury visited upon the worker. The compensation must be commensurate with the injury and lost income of the absence from work
  • Benefit of doubt principle states that as long as all the evidence is balanced, a decision must always be made in favour of the injured worker
  • Work safety programs must be in place to prevent injuries from happening and when they do occur, a comprehensive employee disability management system should take care of the needs of the worker

Workplace Safety

As the old adage goes, “prevention is better than cure”. This applies to the safety of employees: it is more desirable to have competent systems in place that prevent accidents from happening in the first instance than having to deal with issues of accidents and injuries.

The main purpose of a workplace safety program is to prevent any harm been visited on employees. Potential hazards must be identified and measures taken to mitigate against them through the use of physical and managerial controls.

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