A new OSHA report issued last week describes the financial and social costs of occupational injuries and illnesses and how they contribute to income inequality in the U.S. The report, "Adding Inequality to Injury: The Costs of Failing to Protect Workers on the Job," is available as a PDF on OSHA’s website.
According to OSHA, injured workers, their families, and taxpayer-supported programs pay most of the costs associated with workplace injuries, including lost income and medical care. The report states that changes in state-based workers’ compensation insurance programs have made it difficult for workers with compensable injuries or illnesses to receive all the benefits to which they are entitled. OSHA notes that employers also bear responsibility for this shift in cost: employers now provide only about 20 percent of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries and illnesses through workers’ compensation.
The agency cites changes in the structure of employment relationships in the U.S.—the misclassification of wage employees as independent contractors and the increased use of temporary workers, for example—as factors that exacerbate the incidence and consequences of workplace injuries and illnesses. This changing structure of work in the U.S. is part of a trend that David Weil, PhD, administrator of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division, refers to as the "fissured workplace."
The most effective solution to the problem is to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses from occurring in the first place. Reduction in the number of work injuries and illnesses would also have a significant impact on healthcare system costs, reducing expenditures for hospitalizations and other medical care.