An Article in the Chicago Tribune Newspaper About Injured Worker Programs

Posted on Mar 07, 2015

Here is the article. We are including the entire article because newspapers are taking down their news articles or moving the links making later reference difficult if not impossible. This is the article by the actual reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Alejandra Cacino. 

OSHA: Workers' comp programs are failing injured workers

Two reports released Wednesday show how workplace injuries are driving Americans deeper into poverty.

Changes in state-based workers' compensation insurance programs have made it increasingly difficult for injured workers to receive benefits such as coverage for medical expenses, according to a report by the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Employers provide just 20 percent of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries and illnesses through workers' compensation, according to the report. As a result, taxpayers are subsidizing the vast majority of the income and medical care costs of injured workers.

Even with workers' compensation benefits, injured workers' incomes are on average nearly $31,000 lower over a decade than if they had not been injured. Low-wage workers, the report says, are injured on the job at a disproportionate rate.

"These injuries and illnesses contribute to the pressing issue of income inequality," the report said.

What's more, the use of temporary workers and independent contractors are exacerbating the incidence and consequences of work injuries by reducing incentives for companies to assume responsibility for safe working conditions, the report said.

"OSHA has encountered many situations, including some in which temporary workers have been killed, in which employers have chosen to not provide required safety training to temporary workers," the report says.

About 4,500 workers are killed on the job each year and more than 3 million serious injuries or illnesses are recorded annually on employer logs, according to government data. OSHA says that figure could be far higher as many work-related injuries are not recorded or occur long after exposure to hazardous agents has ended.

The report calls for an increase in prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses and for states to eliminate roadblocks workers face when seeking compensation.

"The failure of many employers to prevent millions of work injuries and illnesses each year, and the failure of the broken workers' compensation system to ensure that workers do not bear the costs of their injuries and illnesses, are truly adding inequality to injury," the report says.

In a second report, an investigation by ProPublica and National Public Radio found that 33 states have passed workers' comp laws that have reduced benefits or made it more difficult for those with certain injuries and diseases to qualify for benefits. It also found that employers and insurers increasingly control medical decisions, such as whether an injured worker needs surgery.

In Illinois, lawmakers have enacted changes that place strict caps on payments to doctors and hospitals through medical fee schedules, which critics say cause some doctors to stop taking workers' comp patients, according to ProPublica.

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Steve Lombardi
Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death