Unsafe Workplaces Mean More Injuries

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Unsafe Working Conditions

Today’s guest post comes from our colleague Tom Domer or Wisconsin.

The connection between unsafe workplaces and the increased frequency of work injuries seems like a no brainer. A study released by NCCI Holdings indicated worker’s compensation claims rose by 3% during 2010 (the first rise in frequency in over a dozen years). The study attributed the increased frequency to several factors

Because of these repeat violations,OSHA cited United Contracting and placed the firm on its “Severe Violator Enforcement Program”

including increases in employment since the onset of the recession in 2008, workers possibly being less fearful of losing their jobs for filing claims, and a lack of light duty jobs to which injured workers could return because of the poor economy.

One factor not referenced is the connection between increasingly unsafe work environments and work injuries. Two recent news stories in Wisconsin underscored this connection. OSHA fined a Wisconsin contractor $150,000

for violations while working on two bridges along highways in Wisconsin. The violation is more alarming because the contractors were working under a State contract to repaint the bridges. OSHA charged that the company did not have proper scaffolding at the bridges exposing workers to falls, and in fact one worker was injured in June after falling from a scaffold at one of the bridges. Because of these repeat violations, OSHA cited United Contracting and placed the firm on its “Severe Violator Enforcement Program” which required further inspections.

OSHA also cited a painting company with a $50,000 fine for failing to properly label containers containing hazardous chemicals, failing to perform medical evaluations for employees using respirators, and failures in its painting and blasting operations. These were “repeat violations” where an employer previously had been cited for the same or similar violation. Other serious safety violations (where there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from the hazard) involve failure to provide machine guarding, guard rails, lock-out / tag-out program, and inadequate training.

Workers injured by unsafe conditions can, however, pursue a Safety Violation against their employer

I routinely receive calls from workers injured by these unsafe conditions, asking whether they can sue the employer for damages. Unfortunately, even for the most egregious violations, employers are immune from a lawsuit and the worker’s exclusive remedy is under worker’s compensation, a deal that was struck 100 years ago.

Workers injured by unsafe conditions can, however, pursue a Safety Violation against their employer, which triggers a 15% increased compensation penalty against their employer. Employers cannot insure for these penalties. Not unexpectedly, payments coming directly from employers’ pockets are contested to a hearing out of proportion to their dollar value.

With over 30 years of experience representing injured workers in Wisconsin, Tom Domer was recently named the 2011 Milwaukee Workers’ Compensation Lawyer of the Year in Best Lawyers. Tom teaches the workers’ compensation course at Marquette University Law School, providing the instruction and training for many other lawyers. He lectures frequently around the nation. He also is a prolific writer, editing the national magazine Workers’ First Watch. He has co-authored over two dozen texts, including with his son and law partner Charlie, West’s Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Law. Tom earned all his degrees in Wisconsin.

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