The reality of current worker safety is that more Americans are killed at work each year than died in the twin towers on September 11th. Every day eighteen Americans die preventable deaths; preventable because mandated safety precautions go unheeded. When a preventable death occurs it means that someone, somewhere, dropped the ball. Possibly a safety measure was not followed by an employee or their supervisor. Or, an employer who has repeatedly and maliciously disregarded OSHA regulations has been allowed to literally “get away with murder!”
According to Webster’s Dictionary, an “accident” is defined as “an unexpected unusual event.” But, when an employer repeatedly breaks laws, there is nothing unusual or unexpected about an event that produces a tragic debilitating injury or death to an employee.
This is the dirty little secret of Workers’ Compensation: employers hold the ultimate “Get Out Of Jail FREE” card when it comes to their employee’s safety. Employers are immune from civil wrongful death actions and, for all practical purposes, criminal prosecution.
Prior to Workers’ Compensation laws employees had the right, just like any other citizen, to sue their employers if the employer’s tortuous behavior caused the employee an injury or worse, death. Unfortunately, very few workers prevailed in court. The employer’s ability to afford more lawyers and more investigators outmatched that of the resources of the workers.
Employers did not take safety precautions seriously or provide adequate safe working conditions because they had absolutely nothing to fear from the injured worker.
An idea that developed shortly after the turn into the 20th Century was the formation of state-created industrial commissions to establish health and safety regulations and to compensate injured workers. The various state commissions desired to make available a fund which would compensate workers for their injuries without draining the resources of the employers.
The general idea was that companies would contribute to a self-insurance fund; the fewer injuries there were, the less the fund would have to pay out and the lower the premiums would be to the employers. Thus, the initial Workers’ Compensation concept was a
preventive measure by individual states in reaction to the need to protect workers..
Then the insurance companies of America got hold of these commissions with their massive economic and legislative clout and that is what we have today; a system that gives the employers and their insurers the ultimate shield against civil and criminal prosecution for crimes which if committed anywhere else, would land them in jail poste haste!
Welcome to the doctrine of the “Exclusive Remedy!
And what do injured workers get in exchange?
The ability to get medical treatment when the insurance company feels like giving it.
The ability to have their medical needs reviewed by doctors who are not impartial, and who are paid by the employers and insurers to delay and deny industry standard treatment modalities.
The ability to be treated by doctors who are more motivated by repeat employer business than treating injuries properly and effectively.
The ability to get little or no compensation for their inability to compete in the workplace for jobs that will fit their post injury abilities.
The ability to obtain totally inadequate funds to retrain themselves for new employment.
It’s time that our legislators got off their respective hind ends and passed some laws that will aid and assist the working population of this state or there won’t be anyone left to man the jobs that we already have.
The State of Minnesota has a bill in it’s Senate sponsored by Senator John Marty that is a unique one-of-a-kind bill that will hold employers accountable for the wrongful death of a worker due to their ignorance of OSHA regulations. It’s a start.
It is truly time for our state legislators to step up to the plate and protect the rights of the occupationally injured, and hold these insurers and employers accountable to the same standard of the law that injured workers are held to.
The Exclusive Remedy was never meant to be a “Get Out Of Jail FREE” card.
Sam Gold is an injured worker who created the first regularly scheduled television program on the California workers’ compensation system in 2004. Injured On The Job (www.injuredonthejob.tv) is produced at state-of-the-art video production facilities in San Francisco and Sacramento, and exposes the fraud and corruption of Workers Comp in a manner that the television viewer can easily understand and comprehend. He also maintains a web site (www.ciaw.org and a blog at blog.ciaw.org for Californians Injured At Work, one of the largest injured worker advocacy organizations in California.