OSHA’s critique of workers’ comp

On March 5, OSHA issued a scorching critique of the workers’ comp system today, “Adding Inequality to Injury: The Costs of Failing to Protect Workers on the Job.”


This is an unprecedented statement by a federal agency on inadequate benefits, the financial burden of injuries on injured worker households, misclassification of workers as independent contractors, under-reporting of injuries into the workers’ comp system, and other failings of the 100 year old state based workers’ comp system.


Some excerpts from the executive summary:


….More than three million workers are seriously injured, and thousands more are killed on the job. The financial and social impacts of these injuries and illnesses are huge, with workers and their families and taxpayer-supported programs paying most of the costs.


For many injured workers and their families, a workplace injury creates a trap which leaves them less able to save for the future or to make the investments in skills and education that provide the opportunity for advancement. These injuries and illnesses contribute to the pressing issue of income inequality: they force working families out of the middle class and into poverty.


The costs of workplace injuries are borne primarily by injured workers, their families, and taxpayer-supported components of the social safety net. Changes in state based workers’ compensation insurance programs have made it increasingly difficult for injured workers to receive the full benefits (including adequate wage replacement payments and coverage for medical expenses) to which they are entitled.


Employers now provide only a small percentage (about 20%) of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries and illnesses through workers’ compensation.


The pervasive misclassification of wage employees as independent contractors and the widespread use of temporary workers have increased the risk of injury and the number of workers facing financial hardships imposed by workplace injuries.



The most effective solution to the problem posed by this paper is to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses from occurring….. At the same time, it is vitally important that state-based workers’ compensation programs take steps to eliminate roadblocks that prevent workers with compensable injuries or illnesses from receiving the full compensation to which they are entitled.




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